The disdain that conservative politicians exhibit towards the public good, common sense, intellectualism, scientific inquiry, complexity, and leadership is an abominable insult to both the democratic process and the solemn duty to uphold the Constitution on behalf of the constituents they represent. My aim here is to level a broadside at an ideology, not a party. And while the Republican Party is a far more egregious violator of the sacred trust between the electorate and the elected leadership at all levels of government I do not excuse those who practice what amounts to infidelity in the Democratic Party.
The core of contemporary conservative ideology holds that unless a leader actually possesses direct knowledge and specialization over a particular subject matter they are excused from exercising the responsibility they swore to uphold when they assumed the oath of office, which requires holding one hand on the Bible and repeating a pledge to support the Constitution. Could anything be more absurd?
Under this logic, they simply cannot be expected to render decisions on important public policy issues like climate change because, of course, they are not scientists. Using that same rationale, they should have recused themselves from voting on the Iraq War resolution because the overwhelming majority of them never served in the military. Now as much as I would have actually enjoyed seeing Congress unable to engage in war because only combat veterans would have been allowed to vote on the issue it truly is equally absurd.
Government policies affect large numbers of people, not only in this country but given our superpower status they reach people in every corner of the globe. Public policy issues span the gamut from health care to housing, to transportation to social services to small businesses to international affairs and the list goes on to affect nearly every walk of life. No one can possibly have the expertise to render decisions on the panoply of issues involved at any level of government using this illogical test. Not even the Pope is capable of being an expert on everything, yet that does not stop him from utilizing his brain power, compassion and intellectual resources at his disposal to weigh in on matters that directly affect all of God's children. If only our leaders had such resources? If only we could devise an ingenious process for analyzing issues?
Well the fact is there is a process for doing just that, and over the centuries of our existence we have devised a process that compartmentalizes, integrates, and delegates myriad responsibilities among committees, subcommittees, commissions, academia, publicly funded research institutions, a governmental accountability office, a congressional budget office, technology bureaus, and a structure of information gathering populated by legions of bright, dedicated, and largely youthful aides, researchers, and bureaucrats. The job of our elected officials is to utilize these considerable resources to accumulate a significant base of knowledge in order to make informed decisions on all matters that come before them. It is called government.
This is the system. No one expects Congressman Blowhard or Senator Pretty Boy, or Mayor Do Gooder, or County Commissioner Yahoo or City Councilperson Go Getter to have an encyclopedic mind or to devote their respective energies towards mastering all issues under the sun. Rather they are provided ample resources and opportunities to familiarize themselves with complex issues and render their best decisions using a calculus that takes into account their own personal predilections in combination with those stubborn things called facts and offer the public what is supposedly best for the common good.
That is the way the system is designed to work and oftentimes it does, assuming that it is not corrupted by leaders who cavalierly discard these perks and benefits of office for more sinister motives or even worse personal gain. This, too, happens far too often and the perception is that it probably happens much more than it actually does. When rampant cynicism takes hold as it currently does in today's conservative culture the results can be devastating. Filibusters, government shutdowns, vengeful public policies, paralysis of the functions of government and questioning of motives all conspire to exacerbate the woeful circumstances we currently find ourselves dealing with. Today cynicism claimed another victim as Speaker Boehner basically decided to call it quits rather than precariously attempt to hold together a conservative party membership that is far more comfortable with politicking than policy-making. I certainly was no fan of the Speaker but never doubted that he truly was dedicated to making government work in the face of what appears to be insurmountable odds.
So the next time one of these lower wattage elected types cowers behind the excuse that because they do not know everything they cannot be expected to do anything the only appropriate response is to relieve them of their burden and find someone who is willing to uphold the contract they sign with you each time they ask for your vote. Quite simply renegotiate the contract or fire them.
There are no definitive tests or sets of qualifications that determine who will make a good leader. In the public sphere the best one can hope for is a willingness to look at all sides of an issue, reliance on experts in the various subject matter to help guide logical and effective solutions, and a steadfast determination on the part of the office holder to above all else protect the common good while providing equality, justice, fairness to all members not only of his/her community but the community of the whole.
The current system has produced some astounding public policy successes over time, it has also produced some dismal failures, but it can work if allowed to encourage due diligence, debate, compromise, and a long-term outlook on how our society will look in the future, not a retreat to the past. I spent nearly four decades as a senior-level staffer attempting to help further constructive change and forward progress in the public policy arena. I have seen it work and I have seen it fail, but the important thing is that we should never throw our hands up and quit and we must hold our elected officials responsible for making it work for the benefit of all.
Statesmanship is an indispensable calculator of success, it requires utilization of vision and wisdom. It is often difficult to sense when a statesperson is born, sometimes it can happen early in life, sometimes it reveals itself in the most intense of crises. Over the years I have written about this and spoken and taught college level courses in public policy and stressed the need to have leaders who tell us not necessarily what we want to hear but what we need to know.
Over the years I have also traveled extensively and asked well-healed intellectuals and practitioners who they would consider a contemporary statesperson and oftentimes they have been unable or struggled to name one. We are currently witnessing an individual who very well may be the closest thing to a statesperson that the world has seen in quite some time. Of course I am referring to Pope Francis. As a Catholic I have a certain pride in being able to lavish praise on the Pope. As a progressive I get a little uncomfortable at gushing over a religious figure, regardless of the religion. But this individual is taking the world by storm and touching on previously taboo subjects, not the least being the evil of greed.
Is he truly infallible? I don't think so; he is after all only human. But he is inspirational and willing to take on many of the sacred cow issues facing not only the Church but the world as we know it. He is questioning large issues: war and peace, capitalism, climate change, compassion for the poor, income inequality, tolerance, love. Has he some room for improvement, of course he does, but he is head and shoulders beyond current leaders on the world stage. If he can accelerate discussions on these large-scale issues and foster a reassessment and rapprochement on the part of world leaders then he will have accomplished significant progress towards a more peaceful world.
He has been criticized for acting like Jesus, and what higher compliment would be expected of the Pope? If he gives us hope and confidence that we can indeed tackle the preeminent issues of our time in a way that benefits all of God's creatures and that is a pretty substantial step forward. To borrow phraseology more appropriate to the generation of youth that will only benefit from such thinking, the Pope is dope! Long live the Pope.