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You might be a politician if...

Tommy Thompson, professional politician.
Tommy Thompson, professional politician.Getty Images

Campaigning in Alabama the other day, Mitt Romney initially told voters, "I'm not really a politician," before walking it back, adding, "I guess I kinda am."

"Kinda" doesn't quite work. In 1994, Romney ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. In 2002, Romney was elected governor. Two years later, he formed his first political action committee, and two years after that, he became chairman of the Republican Governors Association. In 2007, Romney ran for president, and in 2008, after failing, he created another political action committee. In 2010, Romney traveled extensively in support of midterm Republican candidates, just as he'd done in 2006. In 2011, he launched another presidential campaign.

If Romney's "not really a politician," we'll need to reevaluate the meaning of the word.

Tommy Thompson, professional politician.
Tommy Thompson, professional politician.Getty Images

That said, compared to Tommy Thompson, Romney is a Johnny Come Lately to the political scene. For Thompson to avoid the "politician" label is kind of hilarious, and yet, like Romney, he can't help himself.

Tommy Thompson is running to be the GOP nominee in the race for Wisconsin's open U.S. Senate seat. From 2001-2005, he was President George W. Bush's Secretary of Health and Human Services. Before that, from 1987-2001, he was governor of Wisconsin. He also served from 1966-1987 in the Wisconsin state legislature. In 1979, he ran for Congress and lost, and in 2008, he dropped out after a short-lived bid for the presidency. In all, Thompson has served 35 years in public office and another four years as a Cabinet official, not counting the time he spent running for office. Thompson is 70 years old, meaning that he has spent at least half his life in politics. Nevertheless, on Tuesday, Thompson insisted that he is not a "professional politician."

Look, if you've run for the state legislature, governor, Congress, and president, and served most of your adult life in public office, I hate to break it to you, but you're a professional politician.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Indeed, the kicker to all of this is that Thompson has no reason to deny what is plainly true. Opinions may vary on this point, but I'd argue there's nothing wrong with being a professional politician. Public service is honorable, and it's absurd to think serving one's country or community through elected office should be looked down upon, or in this case, denied.

"Politician" has become a dirty word, leading candidates like Thompson and Romney to make ridiculous claims about their tenuous ties to their chosen profession, but their shame is misplaced and unnecessary. Shouldn't they take pride in what they do?