One of the most difficult things for me to grasp as I attempt to further this writing/commentary career is that something magical happens when “pen” is put to “paper”, or in this case, fingers are set to keyboard and words are created on a word processor. They become a public record of what you think, believe, or profess. Sure, one can get rid of the evidence by deleting, but even a cursory knowledge of the internet or word processors shows that nothing is ever truly deleted. Unless the hard drive is physically smashed, or some sort of bleaching software is used, just about anything is recoverable to some extent. Fingerprints on the weapon.
The point is that if one is going to write and then publish, a certain amount of responsibility must be taken by the producer of said content. While no one is without error, the idea is that a writer should stand by their words, or, admit when they’re wrong and retract – publicly. An island is the writer’s home.
The same is true for positions of leadership. Should one take up that mantle, then one must be prepared to lead. That means, making decisions that are going to be unpopular for at least half of the people one is leading. It is the nature of command and there’s no getting around it. Scrutiny is part of the package. The truth is that it’s much easier to be old men in the balcony shouting directions and criticisms with few consequences, and the vast majority of people know it which is why we have such a plethora of pundits.
Punditry is the easiest job there is. Sit in the cheap seats, throw popcorn, swill beer, and pontificate by saying, “What I would do is…” to their heart’s content. A small percentage of those that hear their rants will nod their heads and agree, and a small percentage will vehemently disagree, but the old men don’t care. Their voice will blend in with the great unwashed and be drowned out by the clamoring of the crowd anyway. Theirs is not a stage but a packed-to-the-brim gallery of like-minded cognoscenti, all with the answers but not the courage to stand naked in front of the masses and point in a direction. Easier to fade into the ivy-covered walls than stand with nothing but your ideals for a shield and suffer the slings and arrows of those who can’t or won’t fill the position of leadership. Leadership is, at times, a dark and lonely place, but the true leader knows what he/she signed up for and is willing to drink the hemlock should it be presented.
Then, there is the other group. To my mind, the most loathsome group of them all. These are the ones that profess to lead, and in fact, stand before the great masses, delivering great speeches, wonderful words, inspiring their followers to rally, only then to abrogate their power to someone else. In their world, they present half-ideas, and depending on the wind, competing ideas, hoping that the masses will forget a previous stance, and then, without making a full commitment, wait and see the direction the leader is going to take. Political slight- of-hand that any magician would be envious of. Should the idea they originally fostered gain traction, they jump on the bandwagon proclaiming their wonderous revelation was chosen by the leader, waving their hands in the air in the “I said that” fashion, garnering as much credit as possible.
Should the original idea fail, that’s ok, for they also floated the “other” idea and simply fall back upon that saying, “well, I changed because I knew that the first idea was wrong,” or some similar sounding drivel. They insulate themselves from ever being wrong, or more precisely, ever having to make a decision at all. This is easily proven in the world of the never disappearing clips, words, or video that we live in today. Evidence of the duplicity of our politicians on both sides of the aisle is easily attainable, but unfortunately, most of the gallery choose not to pay attention, preferring the comfort of their tribe over the reality of holding their chosen’s feet to the fire.
So it is with our Congress, all 535 members. They have abrogated their responsibility to the office of the President, no matter who occupies that office, preferring to lob ideas and wait for a path to be chosen. Congress has become reactive rather than proactive. Let the President chart the course, almost in isolation so that they can then watch, wait, and if the path is clear, jump on and take credit. If there are hazards along the way, they can claim that they were not “fully on board,” or “I had my doubts, but the party leadership said…” They do not have the courage of their conviction in most cases but do have the courage of their indecisiveness as their compatriots in the media shield their escape or they fall silent deliberately allowing the hundreds of other voices in congress to drown them out.
See, it’s all about re-election, and taking a stand to actually lead is risky for them. A member of the House gets a term of only two years, so from the very first day, they are preparing for their return. They find themselves fund raising and doing the bare minimum that Congress requires of them because re-election and funding is the paramount issue. Incumbency in the House currently runs at around ninety plus percent, this despite the fact that Congressional approval hovers someplace in the low teens.
This means that no matter what, as long as the member is neutral enough or there are enough places to hide, that member will get re-elected. Why take a chance and stick one’s neck out? Like her or not, at least the venerable AOC (Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) is not afraid at all to say what she thinks. While I personally don’t agree with much that she says, her ideas appearing to be little more than twenty-something ramblings with little knowledge of history but plenty of emotion, she stands on her own two feet and does suffer the slings and arrows, and shoots right back, informationally correct or not (unfortunately for her, it is the latter). I respect her doggedness, and so do her rabid supporters. The Senate has a retention rate of something over eighty percent. Not quite as good as the House, but still significant, again despite a low teens percentage in approval.
Apparently, it pays to abrogate one’s power, or in this case, an entire third of our political system’s power. Why not? Most presidents are elected to two terms anyway, so let him step continually in the limelight, get smattered with tomatoes or toasted with champaign. Safer to watch from the back of the room, secure in the knowledge that you can take any direction you wish and never be wrong. Roaches to come out at night, only to scatter once the light is turned on.
The late author and political pundit Lyn Nofzinger once said, “The executive branch has grown too strong, the judicial branch too arrogant, and the legislative branch too stupid.” There is a certain amount of truth in that statement. Our government has come to rely on an executive to take the slings and arrows as well as provide answers and direction in a vacuum, our judicial branch, until recently drifted from an interpretive constitutional body to one that was more activist (we’ll see what direction the new Roberts court becomes – and partisanship or party loyalty should have NOTHING to do with decisions), and the legislative, as this article is trying to point out is something rather than stupid. I would argue it’s become preservative, giving the appearance of stupid. Lead from the back, protect your position and never, ever stand on the stump to be wrong. Do that, and you, too can have more than one house, an eventual consulting position for well over six figures, and a long career on the back of the populace.
Until WE THE PEOPLE realize that it is incumbent upon us to hold our members of congress’ feet to the fire and stop giving them the free pass of incumbency, we are complicit in the problem. In the end, the source of all political power in this country is the people, but we, too, have abrogated our responsibility. We vote along party lines more than we vote independent. No politician should have a “base” of anything. We should be as shifting sands, with our political leaders unsure of our support. Only in that way will they be responsive. On occasion the “sure thing” is upended in Congress, but rarely. Joe Crowley was one of the “rarely” when he, secure in his rather lengthy incumbency, and lazy in campaigning, was unseated by AOC. In case you were wondering, Joe Crowley is now a lobbyist. I know, you’re shocked.
Thomas Jefferson said it best. “Who will govern the governors? There is only one force in the nation that can be depended upon to keep the government pure and the governors honest, and that is the people themselves. They alone, if well informed, are capable of preventing corruption of power, and of restoring the nation to its rightful course if it should go astray. They alone are the safest depository of the ultimate powers of government.”
Let it be so, let it be us, should we have the will to take back our abrogation, and vote with an open mind.