Tag Archives: Public Service

The slow, sad implosion of the U.S. Congress

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.

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Politicians Are People Too

Some popular sentiments are so commonly expressed that it is often too easy to just repeat them without considering the extended impact. This is how I feel when I see a Facebook post, a blog comment, or a comment in the stream of a news story regarding the perceived lack of respect for all politicians.

First, let me start by saying that skepticism for the mainstream political establishment is fair, healthy, and warranted. We should all want the best people with the right intentions representing our best interests. Often, we should and do disagree on what our best interests are — but that’s open democracy. What we should desire are political leaders that fight for those best interests with thoughtfulness and integrity. Our skepticism comes from very public examples where that example is not being illustrated.

What is missed are the countless number of people who have done the good work of the people but aren’t in the public eye. The countless number of people who work today for those they represent in states, counties, Congressional or Statehouse districts, and on down to village ward council members. Some have public name recognition, but most are known only to the small segment of people they represent. The overwhelming majority seek out those roles because they care enough about their communities to put themselves out there.

There should be a difference between holding our elected leaders up to a high standard, and simply trashing them all because some have been engaged in dishonest, unethical, or selfish activities. It is a real problem when we elect people to represent us and they use that role to benefit their own interests. What we should avoid is painting an entire profession with the same brush and deciding for ourselves that anyone holding an elected post is inherently a crook, a puppet, or anything less than an actual human being. What we should do is encourage good people to get involved and pay more attention instead of less. Cynically throwing our hands up in frustration is easy, but the resulting apathy only allows the pervasive cycle to continue where the lowest common denominator of public servants keep their jobs.

I admit that there is a personal motivation behind this post. I have friends who are good public servants and truly believe in the work they do and care about the people and communities they serve. Although I can’t say for sure that my future will include an elected office, my ambitions include public service in some way. It is not because I want to be some famed politician or historic statesman. It is because my past has given me the experience and the drive to do for others. I am choosing that direction knowing what the public sentiment is. All others have done the same.

Next time you are tempted to exclaim how they’re all crooks, they’re good-for-nothing, or they don’t give a damn about average people, stop yourself and consider if you are doing more harm than good by expressing such hostile terms for an entire group of people. Most are or have been average citizens at one time, and chose to get involved because they did indeed give a damn. Again, it is easy to get frustrated and only see through a single lens because the worst examples do tend to get the most attention. However, choosing to seek the path of public service is just that, a path of service to the public. How many good people will continue pursuing that path if it means being devalued as a human being by the people they wish to serve?

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