Could Washington, DC, Use a Little More Selfless Service?

During a trip I took earlier this year, I happened to pick up a USAToday. I don’t often read the USAToday, but that has more to do with the way that I aggregate articles. As I was reading, I came across an op-ed about Tulsi Gabbard, the newest member of the House of Representatives from Hawai’i. In the context of what had just happened with the drama of the fiscal cliff, there were some important points that I want to highlight:

The problem in Washington today is that legislators almost always act based on how they think their actions will help or hurt their political careers. An antidote to our epidemic of partisanship can be found in the “great tradition of conciliation” in which American statesmen from Thomas Jefferson to John Kennedy put the good of the country above the interests of self, party, or region. This tradition could be revived, if only we would heed the words of George Washington, who warned against the “mischiefs of the spirit of party,” or of Patrick Henry, who exclaimed, “I am not a Virginian but an American.”

It could also be revived by an infusion of the Gita’s principle of selfless service. If Democrats and Republicans could learn to cast their votes without first (and foremost) calculating the costs and benefits to their personal careers, Capitol Hill would start to look a less like a battlefield between rival clans and more like the arena of compromise and conciliation our Founders intended it to be.

Selfless service.

How often do we hear that phrase used in the context of politics?

The irony of this op-ed about selfless service is that a day later, I heard this same point echoed on conservative talk radio. Dennis Praeger and his call-in guests were opining that politicians weren’t concerned about the big picture — they were focused on what was going to get them elected and keep them elected. How interesting, eh? While I don’t know that the author of the op-ed is liberal, the fact that he’s writing about diversity in Congress (and about a Democratic House Member, in particular) might lead one to believe that he might be. There’s also the fact that he wrote a rather pointed post for CNN around election day last year. So, it’s safe to assume that back in January of this year, we had people on both sides of the ideological aisle talking about how important it is for politicians in America to start thinking about what’s good for the country rather than their district, party, or reelection chances.

While I’m totally on-board with a bigger picture perspective, I would wonder how to reconcile not keeping the interests of my district in mind when voting. Isn’t that how people get elected in the first place? I’m going to represent you in Washington… I’m going to represent what’s important for our town when I get to DC… How could one turn one’s back on one’s district?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but it’s a conversation worth having.

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