Jack Valenti: An Honorable Mentor

Like many in this town, Jack Valenti meant a great deal to me personally — as a mentor, friend, patriot and industry leader. He will be remembered for many things, chief among them the way he viewed politics and government.

Jack believed that politics was a noble and compelling profession where problems could actually be solved. He truly believed that we are in this business to make the world a better place. With this unifying goal in mind, differences of opinion always were healthy in his book. But conflict resolution in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation was the name of the game. “If you can’t produce results, why bother being in this business?” he’d ask.

No one ever doubted his Democratic Party credentials, his progressive political philosophy or his love of Lyndon Johnson. He was proud of his personal participation in the Great Society efforts to bring this country a little closer to its ideals of fairness and equality of opportunity. But Jack never demonized anyone he disagreed with in his efforts to pursue his personal or professional goals. He consistently worked on behalf of his beloved movie industry to press its objectives with vigor and unparalleled enthusiasm. In the process, he showed an undying respect for everyone he dealt with. There were no recriminations. And, from personal experience, I know how much he was repelled by the politics of polarization and destruction. The old fable that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” was his trademark.

By practicing what we believed in every day, Jack became one of the most successful lobbyists in the history of this great town. He achieved enormous results for the film industry during the nearly 40 years he headed the Motion Picture Association of America. He was the link between the entertainment and political worlds that benefited both over and over again. As the father of the voluntary film ratings system, he protected U.S. filmmakers from censorship. And he did so by creating a system that, while controversial at times, remains a respected and valued tool for the folks Jack created it for — America’s parents.

Many attribute his success to who he knew — and his friends and admirers in Washington, D.C., and Hollywood were legion — but Jack reached a rare pinnacle of success in life for who he was. He was a decent, honest and courageous man who practiced a too-rare brand of politics — one filled with conviction and respect, energy of purpose and civility. Over and over, Jack proved that you can practice the golden rule and still be a powerful force for change in the modern political world. He treated the most junior staff on Capitol Hill with the same respect he treated the Senate or House leadership. And true to his own spirit, he treated everyone he met, inside or outside the glamorous worlds he lived in, as a friend.

Jack practiced a profession few would term “honorable” in an honorable way. His career offers inspiration to all of us who have an interest and a yearning to improve the workings of our political system. The way he chose to live his life and earn his many successes offer a powerful lesson — a gift, really — to all of us who will carry on the important — and, yes, Jack — noble business of politics, governance and democracy.

Dan Glickman is chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America.