Friday, February 15, 2013

Politics or Leadership?


Doug Mills/The New York Times

Another State of the Union speech is over with the usual political batting back and forth regarding what the President said.  Late night comics have relished making fun of Senator Rubio’s long reach for a bottle of water during his response for the Republican Party.  Life has moved on rather quickly this time, at least as far as the media’s concerned: the big stories this week were about the Pope resigning, a former LAPD cop who’d gone on the run after murdering three people; Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee athlete famous for running on blades in last year’s summer Olympics, taken into police custody in Pretorius, South Africa, for allegedly murdering his girlfriend; and a Carnival cruise ship dead in the water after an engine room fire.  Yes, life has definitely moved on in America.

I confess that this year I failed to watch the President’s State of the Union speech.  If I’d been home on time that evening (which I wasn’t) and had had time to prepare (which I hadn’t), I would have watched it.  The morning news shows covered it but not as extensively as I remember them covering last year’s.  From what I heard, it sounded like President Obama was calling out the Republicans in Congress for their choice of playing politics over working for the good of the nation.  They need to stop sitting on their hands and work with the Democrats and Independents to resolve our financial issues, our issues with mental health care, and gun regulation, among others.

Ah, but isn’t that an age-old problem in Washington, D.C.?  Politics vies for priority attention with all the issues facing our country, and they’re both in competition with the lobbyists on K Street.  We elect our Representatives and Senators to go to Washington to be leaders not politicians.  But politics never ends.  The way our system has evolved, or perhaps devolved is more accurate, fundraising must be an ongoing project for every elected official.  How each official stands politically becomes a reason to contribute to his re-election coffers, not really what that official has accomplished as a leader of our fine country.

They all do it, too.  There is absolutely no difference between any of the political parties when it comes to political activity.  To call it “cutthroat” makes an understatement.  How much of this activity, though, is about retaining power?  How much is simply about keeping a job?  And does anyone in Congress know anymore what being a leader means?  What putting the best interests and needs of your constituencies and your country ahead of fundraising and keeping the job means?  It used to be that if you were an effective leader, you didn’t have to worry about keeping your job.  Now it’s all about money and politics.

Oh, how I miss Senator Paul Wellstone.  There was a guy who never forgot where he came from or where he was going and why.  With a strong moral compass and the courage to follow it, he worked for Minnesota and the entire country.  Or what about Senator Edward Kennedy?  Senator Daniel Moynihan?  These guys knew how to negotiate, when to compromise, and understood that the U.S. government was about more than them.  They cared.

Call me a cynic, but I’m hard-pressed to believe that the people on the Republican side of the aisle care about their fellow citizens and this country more than their jobs and re-election accounts.  I’d guess that there are plenty of the same on the Democrats’ side, too.  I am especially tired of the Republican theory that a deficit can be decreased only by cutting spending.  If that theory actually held water, I personally would have nothing to worry about being unemployed but having cut my spending, right?

I don’t think so.  Cutting spending and increasing revenue is the most efficient, and probably fastest, way to reduce a deficit.  So all you people in Congress, as one of your employers (essentially), I am ordering you to sit down, negotiate, compromise, and get the work done, or else…. 

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