Wanted from Washington: Less Profile and More Courage

The Washington soap opera continues — intra party political brawling, back and forth taunts up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, and screams for ideological purity from special interest groups are the order of the day. Tragedies, crises, and dangers — abroad and at home — are not problems to be solved but weapons to be used to bludgeon political opponents. Caught in the middle are the American people who are viewed by too many inside the Washington Beltway not as citizens to be served but as mere pawns to be manipulated in attempts to hold or gain influence and power.

In response, is it any wonder that in this political season many Americans are being drawn to questionable prophets on the left and right, who in the past would have been laughed off the presidential stage if they had had the audacity to claim the mantle of national political leadership?

A look back to how we got here may be instructive. The respected Pew Research Center has tracked public trust and confidence in our federal government since 1958. Public trust in Washington peaked in 1964 at 77%. Even through the tumultuous 1960’s and early 70’s with the upheavals caused by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights struggle public confidence stayed above 50%.  It was not until the combined impact of the Watergate era, the economic turmoil of the mid and late 1970’s, and the taking of American hostages in Iran that a sharp sustained slide in public trust occurred, bottoming out at 25% in the spring of 1980.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, public trust rose during two periods of divided government — in the 1980’s under President Reagan and a Democratic controlled House, and in the second half of the 1990’s with President Clinton and a Republican Congress.  Both periods saw more than just steady economic growth. During the Reagan years the two political parties managed to come together to fix social security, strengthen our nation’s defenses, and helped put the final nail in the coffin of the Soviet Union. During the last six years of the Clinton Administration, bi-partisan efforts resulted in a balanced budget and welfare reform.

After a brief spike following 9/11, public trust, however, has steadily declined settling into an abysmal level between the low 20’s and high teens over the past four years – and there is little wonder why.

On the international stage, instead of a Super Power we appear to be a deer stuck in the headlights. ISIS still holds its grip over major parts of Syria and Iraq, desperate refugees are flooding into Europe, the Taliban is surging in Afghanistan, Russia is running roughshod over its immediate neighbors and propping up a savage dictator in Syria, radical Islamic groups and lone wolfs are striking in Africa, Europe, Asia, and America, the European Union is on the brink of being shattered, China’s hacking attacks on foreign businesses and governments go unchecked, a madman in North Korea keeps rattling his nuclear saber, and a flawed Iran nuclear deal has folks uneasy both in our country and among many of our allies in the Middle East.  In short, our friends do not appear to trust us and our adversaries do not fear us.

At home, dysfunction and division reign. Desperately needed reforms to our immigration system remain elusive, the national debt steadily rises, no one dares speak of addressing the spiraling costs of entitlement programs, the federal government with lurching starts and stops struggles just to keep its doors open, racial tension is rising, mistrust in our police is epidemic, our infrastructure is crumbling, and our middle and working classes feel under siege. Meanwhile, a steady drum beat from social media, bloggers, radio commentators, and cable television try to convince us that anyone we disagree with on hot button issues such as same sex marriage, abortion, religious freedom, climate change, and the right response to gun related violence is not just mistaken but immoral and corrupt.

This sorry state, however, need not be the new normal. That which unites us as Americans is greater than the divisions certain agents of discord cynically try to use as a wedge to divide us. We have a well-tested, seasoned and strong military despite recent unwise arbitrary cutbacks. Our economy with all of its faults is still the most stable in the world. Our higher education institutions are still the destination point for the best and brightest, and people around the world still stand in line to come to our country.

Yes, there are special interests, narcissistic self promoters, and bloody fighting within and between political parties acting as obstacles. That has always been true and always will be. Leadership, however, means knowing how to go around or through these impediments. Even when faced with divided government political leaders as partisan and ideological as Ronald Reagan, Tip O’Neil, Bill Clinton, and Newt Gingrich managed to cut through the Washington inertia.

These past leaders were not supermen but simply individuals who recognized the compelling urgency of the present to act. There will rarely be unanimity on a critical issue but stepping up, rolling up sleeves, finding ways to work together, and compromising for the greater good will do wonders in solving what ails us and restoring the national trust.

Our history shows that public trust will be given but only when it is earned. It is time for Washington to do so by displaying a little less self-promoting profile and a lot more courage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 comments

  1. saltycracker says:

    We await that visionary leader that could unite us. It will be a lot more difficult for that person to emerge with entertainment companies controlling the media, a society splintered by an overwhelming Internet of special causes and decision making from characteritures

  2. saltycracker says:

    Ed,

    Apologies for a second opinion but your thought provoking remarks made me set my feet on the gunnel and puzzle. Who amongst us is willing to relinquish turf won with complex codes resulting in either beneficial or misused government largess ? We have successfully transferred too much of the risk in a regulated capitalistic economy from the individual to the people.

    Not just the social programs. Investment bankers went from risking their personal capital to partnerships to public corporations to FDIC banking. Everyone wants in on public largess.

  3. Blake says:

    Unbelievably superficial. To start, the weary false equivalence between left and right, signaling yet another GOP supporter who is incapable of coming to grips with the meltdown of half of America’s political mainstream. To continue, the vague appeals to past great leaders and supposed current greatness, completely ignoring context, such as the economic expansion that dampened the political impact of the Gingrich-Clinton feud on the country and the colossal failures of current public education.

    No useful analysis. No actual prescriptions aside from the vaguest of exhortations. You might as well not waste your time writing, or anyone else’s reading, if this is the product. This is a volunteer website, so you don’t even have the excuse of being a paid columnist who is required to churn out X number of words by deadline.

    • Charlie says:

      Go away.

      Seriously. Just go away.

      This has become a pattern when someone posts a “big picture” piece here. There are political realities that we deal with that are abstract, where problems are completely at the 30,000 foot level.

      To put it in 12 step terms, first we have to understand that we have a problem.

      There are several of you who believe that our contributors shouldn’t be allowed to try to identify and articulate what the problems are. Others of us have to deal with this on a daily basis.

      Frankly, it’s clear to those of us that have taken the burden of trying to fix some things and try to build coalitions to do so that many we work with don’t understand the problems, don’t understand who or what they’re fighting, etc.

      There is value in clarifying these things. If you don’t see it, great. Move along.

      There is no requirement of our contributors to identify a problem (that you then agree with), recommend a specific solution, and then defend it to every person that decides to get a login ID here. A post is not a position paper, academic treatise, or otherwise free standing self contained one stop solution shop.

      You note that it’s a volunteer site. You are also here without a subscription. To act like you didn’t get your money’s worth for something you’re not paying for just shows that you’re an ass. That’s not your role, it’s mine.

      If you wish to remain here, get a dose of reality about yourself. If not, you won’t be missed.

      We’ll make sure you get a full refund.

      • Blake says:

        “Go away. / Seriously. Just go away.”

        This site exists for one purpose: exchanging speech. You’re telling me to withdraw my speech. You, the Editor-in-Chief, are saying that you want this site to diminish its only reason for being.

        Do you see anything wrong with that?

        “This has become a pattern when someone posts a “big picture” piece here.”

        I am not part of whatever pattern you think you are identifying. Review my posting history. It would be kind to call it sporadic.

        “There are political realities that we deal with that are abstract, where problems are completely at the 30,000 foot level.”

        Yes, and there are ways of analyzing them without resort to cliches and pablum.

        “There are several of you who believe that our contributors shouldn’t be allowed to try to identify and articulate what the problems are. Others of us have to deal with this on a daily basis. ”

        I am not one of those believers. I am all for identifying and articulating what the problems are. I am saying that this piece failed at that completely.

        I don’t know what you have to deal with on a daily basis. This is my first comment in weeks, if not months, so it certainly isn’t me.

        “Frankly, it’s clear to those of us that have taken the burden of trying to fix some things and try to build coalitions to do so that many we work with don’t understand the problems, don’t understand who or what they’re fighting, etc.”

        I see lots of assumptions embedded in this, so many that I’m not quite sure how to interpret it. My attempt to figure it out is that you think I do not share this burden, and that I do not understand the problems, etc. If so, I am annoyed that you would judge me based on so little, and that you have assumed a mantle of moral superiority that blinds you to criticism.

        “There is value in clarifying these things. If you don’t see it, great. Move along.”

        As I already said, I agree there is great value in clarifying them. My point, which I see no evidence you understand, is that this piece clarified nothing, and thus had no value.

        “There is no requirement of our contributors to identify a problem (that you then agree with), recommend a specific solution, and then defend it to every person that decides to get a login ID here. A post is not a position paper, academic treatise, or otherwise free standing self contained one stop solution shop.”

        Hyperbole, strawmanning, irrelevance. You should know better.

        “You note that it’s a volunteer site. You are also here without a subscription. To act like you didn’t get your money’s worth for something you’re not paying for just shows that you’re an ass. That’s not your role, it’s mine.”

        No, I paid no money, but I paid with my time, which is exceedingly limited. I scanned my email, saw the daily summary, and thought from the summary there was a chance this particular piece would be useful. I was extremely disappointed it was not, and expressed myself. I’m further disappointed that you would immediately escalate to vulgarity, however mild.

        “If you wish to remain here, get a dose of reality about yourself. If not, you won’t be missed.

        We’ll make sure you get a full refund.”

        I interpret this as a threat to ban me. Considering how little I’ve been around, it should be clear I won’t miss you either. You are completely free to disregard well-intentioned criticism and further diminish public engagement with your ideas, thereby (as I’ve already noted) defeating the only purpose for this site’s existence.

        But as I’ve already more or less said, I hope you’re see there’s something wrong with that.

    • D_in_ATL says:

      I think you nailed it. All the GOP seems to be capable of is blame. This has worked so well for them that I’m honestly surprised they would want a republican to win in 16..it would mean changing the playbook; maybe even doing something besides Benghazi or another try at Obamacare.

  4. xdog says:

    So who do you guys like in the Speaker race? The guy who brags about how well Congressional investigations work as an electoral tool, the guy who says he’s not afraid of government default, or the guy in bed with the Dugger cult?

  5. Edward Lindsey says:

    Blake:

    I found your critique interesting — and a bit amusing — because I do not believe that I have ever been accused of being short on specifics. In my previous post on PP, I have laid out specific areas of concern and suggested solutions related to charter schools, property taxes, transportation, religious freedom, discrimination, mandatory vaccinations, the war on terror, the Confederate flag controversy, and what my Republican Party must do to endure to name a few. See http://www.peachpundit.com/author/edward-lindsey/page/2/.

    The purpose of this post is to step back from the trees and look at the forest for a moment. I wanted to take a long view of where we as a country have been and where we are. My point is that the existence of special interest groups, snake oil salesmen masquerading as political truth tellers, and a divided government is no excuse. We have always had them and we always will. Using the results from the Pew polling over the past 57 years, I tried to demonstrate that public trust will rally around those public officials willing to pierce through the Washington inertia and I laid out the critical need for them to do so .

    • Blake says:

      Thank you for replying, Edward. I took the time to review some (unfortunately I could not review all) of your previous posts. I found the specifics refreshing and interesting, a marked contrast to this post.

      I appreciate the impulse to consider the forest rather than the trees, but to torture the analogy, you’ve pulled back so far that you’ve mistaken what you think is a natural forest clearing for what is actually a bomb crater. A piece that attempts to come to grips with current Washington dysfunction without even mentioning the so-called House Freedom Caucus is an instance of intellectual malpractice. The dynamic that has produced repeated debt limit and government shutdown showdowns over the last five years is categorically different than the dynamics producing past crises of public confidence in the government.

  6. Michael Silver says:

    I’d say the Republican Congress has plenty of courage. The courage to line the pockets of the Crony Capitalists at the expense of the American people and future generations. They also have an unlimited amount of chutzpah.

    Today’s example is the $500M union payoff in the Crude Oil Export bill most of which will go to one Netherland’s based shipping company. ( http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/256179-heritage-blasts-union-buyoff-in-oil-export-bill ). Everyone wins except the taxpayers and future generations that will have to pay the debt service on these giveaways. Big Corporate interests get to expand their profits. The union bosses get $500M to contribute to the next Democrat Presidential campaign. Good Times!

    Come election time, I’m sure Rep. Loudermilk will explain how $500M to unions was an investment in the future and that he meant to vote against Speaker Boehner after he voted for Speaker Boehner.

    Trust? Everyday, the Republican Congress earns our distrust and disdain.

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