Self-interest in Washington threatens our republic

In 1787, as Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention, he was asked, “What have we got, a republic or a monarch?” “A republic,” Franklin replied, “if you can keep it.”

Perhaps Franklin’s pessimism stemmed from his knowledge that a republican form of government empowers the people to rule themselves, rather than bestowing political power on individuals as a right of birth. Therefore, our elected officials are merely a reflection of the larger society.

From a biblical perspective, we are taught that human nature was evident since the Garden of Eden. When God asked Adam and Eve why they had eaten the forbidden fruit, Eve said it was the snake, while Adam declared it was Eve. They blame-shifted, took no responsibility, and innately pointed to others in a futile attempt to exonerate themselves.

So is it really a surprise when our elected officials demonstrate similar behavior during speeches, media interviews, press conferences, cable news programs, at rallies, on web pages, Facebook posts and Twitter feeds? Ironically, the answer is “yes,” because we like to hold our elected officials to higher standards. However, this creates an unrealistic expectation thinking our leaders will demonstrate character we too often do not display ourselves.

In his book, “The Great Hope: Essays on Character and Liberty,” Lawrence Reed identifies that traits once thought of as core to strong character include honesty, humility, responsibility, self-discipline, courage, self-reliance and long-term thinking. Reed further states that a free society is not possible without these traits in widespread practice.

Have we seen much of these traits lately in Washington, D.C.? How about when we look in the mirror?

The recent government shutdown displayed a high-stakes, political drama, blame game. As a citizen, I call on lawmakers who defend unbridled government spending to recognize the unconscionable danger of enslaving unborn generations to pay the costs of what we want today.

I also call on lawmakers who cloak themselves with principled, self-ordained solutions to put aside their rigid approaches and learn how to actually govern in a manner where compromise is not a swear word.

As for our part, the greatest challenge for each and every American is to address our own individual character. By doing so, we can heed Benjamin Franklin’s warning – and keep our republic.

Mark Lemoine is a government relations professional in greater Grand Rapids.

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Comments

Rich
Thu, 12/12/2013 - 11:26am
Our current method of electing those to run for office and our fascination with the two-party system are both partially responsible for the breakdown in government. To win a primary means to pander to the extreme fringe of either party. And most voters will only look at candidates from the two major parties. Thus we end up with a person elected that is either from the extreme right or extreme left of the political spectrum. Combined with gerrymandering, it leads to dysfunctional government. A more moderate candidate is more apt to bargain with those of the opposite viewpoint. We need to do away with all gerrymandered districts and replace them with rectangular boundaries. We need to have an open primary where the two final candidates could both be from the same party, or both could even be of different parties than the two major parties. It's worth a try because what we have today sure isn't working.
Mike R
Thu, 12/12/2013 - 1:48pm
A representative system of government functions well only when each elected official reflects a broad cross-section of his or her constituency and seeks to represent the minority as well as the majority. When districts become more homogeneous and segregated (whether by race, wealth, ideology, or any other criterion) the result is the election of representatives who feel so safe in their seats that they see no need to lead, compromise, or take risks. It becomes a self-sustaining death-spiral: the public gives in to the temptation to subtitute the ravings of the "political entertainment" media for critical thinking and to consider anyone holding contrary views to be evil, ignorant, or subhuman, while their representatives reinforce that behavior by pandering to it, demonizing the opposition to ensure reelection. I agree with Rich: ridding ourselves of gerrymandering and closed primaries would be good first steps toward breaking that circle and forcing people to deal with each other in a civilized spirit of compromise and common purpose. But we won't be able to accomplish that until, as Mr. Lemoine says, we look in the mirror, change ourselves, and start electing real leaders.
Duane
Fri, 12/13/2013 - 12:38am
Mr. Lemoine sounds like the politicians he is disappointed in. He says a lot but all of it is board so it can be whatever the reader wants it to be. He never offers anything specific enough that anyone could challenge what he says or hold it up as a way to assess their representatives. Mr Lemoine bemoans the “…unbridled government spending …” and yet doesn’t offer the reader any guide to what spending should be. For a family there are guides for how much debt to income is appropriate, he might have offer what a debt limit as a percentage of GDP to guide Federal spending. Mr. Lemoine talks about, “…unrealistic expectation thinking our leaders will demonstrate character we too often do not display ourselves.” He ensure that is true by not even offering what expectations he would want these leaders to demonstrate. He doesn’t offer any ideas of what he uses when choosing who to vote for. Mr. Lemoine talks, but never seems to offer any ideas for change, just like the politicians.
different Duane
Sun, 12/15/2013 - 9:54am
Overall, my comment is "No kidding, Sherlock". But enough for levity. Duane cites my chief problem with this piece: “…unrealistic expectation thinking our leaders will demonstrate character we too often do not display ourselves.” This sounds too much like the current liberal meme of LOW PERSONAL EXPECTATIONS. This is why stuff like more than one president's lies, deceptive legislative bill names, and universal cronyism are tolerated. This is how we're losing the Republic. I don't know what the answer is (if there is one), but I don't think it is voting third party...that doesn't get the rascals out. ...and I don't think that both parties end up nominating radicals...if the American people (and others who voted) wanted a moderate, they would have elected Romney.
Big D
Sun, 12/15/2013 - 10:21am
(Different Duane) Overall, my comment is "No kidding, Sherlock". But enough for levity. Duane cites my chief problem with this piece: “…unrealistic expectation thinking our leaders will demonstrate character we too often do not display ourselves.” This sounds too much like the current liberal meme of low personal expectations. This is why stuff like more than one president's lies, deceptive legislative bill names, and universal cronyism are tolerated. This is how we're losing the Republic. I don't know what the answer is (if there is one), but I don't think it is voting third party...that doesn't get the rascals out. ...and I don't think that both parties end up nominating radicals...if the American people (and others who voted) wanted a moderate, they would have elected Romney.
Duane
Sun, 12/15/2013 - 2:07pm
Big D, "I don’t know what the answer is (if there is one), " We won't get to an answer until we start talking about what we want the results to be. Do we believe that their are principles we expect our government and our elected officals to use to guide their actions and what we should judge them by? If we do then we need to start describing the principles in sufficient detail so they and we can actually apply them. As Mr. Lemoine seems to think, "honesty, humility, responsibility, self-discipline, courage, self-reliance and long-term thinking" are important principles, then we should start talking about them. What does honesty means? does it mean that they should they shouldn't make campaign pledges that they knowly will not be achieved? What does responsiblity mean? does it mean being held accountable for their voting and the impact and value provided by their actions? Before we can hope to get to an answer we need to start talking about what the problem is and what the impact we want the answer to have.
Jim
Fri, 12/13/2013 - 6:45am
I am disappointed that Mr. Lemoine parrots the term "unbridled government spending". The actual numbers show that over the past three years we’ve been living through an era of unprecedented government downsizing. Government employment is down sharply; government spending has fallen almost 3 percent since 2010 and around 5 percent per capita. The result was to deepen and prolong America’s jobs crisis. Those cuts in government spending are the main reason we still have high unemployment. When everyone practices austerity everyone loses. The contractor skips getting haircuts which causes the barber to cancel remodeling his house. You only cut government spending during good times, so that it can be the source of last resort during bad times.
Big D
Sun, 12/15/2013 - 9:50am
Similies: - starting in September, 1945, the United States DRAMATICALLY decreased its use of nuclear weapons on its enemies. - there has been NO auto bail-out since 2008 - Greece hasn't borrowed ANY money since 2010
Sun, 12/15/2013 - 8:29pm
I was elected as a trustee in 2008 and in the proposed budget I was being offered health care for my wife and me by the township Manager. That is for someone that could work a little as 3 hours a month. In November my first meeting in office the Manager proposed a motion to provide health care for the full board and their families I was also able to prevent that from happening. To read all the details about the offers (read my consent agenda no vote) and several other items of interest on my website home page www.wacousta.org I felt I was elected to serve not to be served. Sincerely . Dale Westrick Former trustee 2008-2012 Still working to keep the residents informed!!!!