I just finished watching a Daily Show segment in which they talked to a Democrat in California who had been approached by the national party about running for a U.S. House seat. She turned them down, feeling that her desire to be productive and successfully represent her community would be stifled by such a role. To use her words, “I don’t want to be in a place where I have a good, fancy title but I’m not actually able to deliver for people.” The story continued by highlighting a current House member that characterized his experience with words like gridlock, sad, frustrating, etc. He explained that he serves under House leadership that was more concerned with getting the best of the other party to stay in the majority than actually getting things done.
With this kind of environment, what idealistic up-and-coming future leader of this country would want to be a part of it? Congress — where good ideals go to die and good public servants lose their way or give up in frustration. One problem I have observed in the course of seeing how these people conduct themselves, these servants elected to represent the best interests of the American people, is how they treat the deal makers. These are the mavericks, the gentleman from Arizona willing to reach across the aisle, the Congresswoman from Maine searching out room for compromise, the Senator from Connecticut finding a working partner with another even though he may not share the same letter in between two parentheses. They are both celebrated and vilified.
The problem is that establishment party insiders turn their backs on their own members that seek out solutions with the opposition, but congratulate and welcome with open arms an opposition player coming their way. It happens on all ends of the spectrum.
How can we expect good people with hopeful intentions to want to take on important roles if it means toeing the line or towing your career away? It is the height of hypocrisy that Republicans pushed Arlen Specter out for occasionally disagreeing with their public platform, but welcomed Joseph Lieberman to their convention as a man of principle. For the Democrats, it was the exact same two men and the exact same hypocrisy — minus the convention invitation.
The Daily Show is satire, but our history is marked by the humor of satire managing to bring out serious points. The story made a valid point, and the solution is not easy. It requires a big shift in how the parties conduct themselves, a large swelling of new candidates willing to stand firm against the attitude that says play like we play or you won’t get far, and an American public willing to give them the support they need to stay courageous and keep fighting for a D.C. worthy of our support again. Principled leadership does not require dogmatic obstructionism. Unfortunately, not enough are willing to recognize that.