It is an egregious dereliction of duty that the US Congress has left town without resolving legislative snafus that, in their current state, will leave millions of Americans in a lurch as we continue to deal with the science, the politics, and the economics of COVID-19.
It is abhorrent that over 500 leaders, many of whom have desired to become president or vice president at some point and all of whom are supplemented with both staffs and stipends to complete their work, decided as full-time, salaried employees that the historic task at hand could wait another precious moment.
The peak of election season rapidly approaching is not an excuse. In a realm where congressional incumbents win at a clip of at least 90% of the time (i.e., that rate has not dipped below 88% since 1948), very few of them have competitive races to worry about. Some of them often do not have opponents in the fall. One might have heard the old expression: “I can’t stand Congress…they’re horrible…well, except for my congressperson.” So, please do not tell me about obligations to constituents and the need to “hit the campaign trail”.
And before anyone puts this at the feet of President Trump, may I present a clear, pragmatic view? Name for me any politician, behind in the polls as the incumbent is currently and one that has already shown a willingness to expand government spending, that seeks to delay getting money in the hands of needy potential voters? Earlier this year, the President took the liberty of having his signature on the stimulus checks. Why would he not want to leverage a second opportunity for that as soon as possible without unnecessary angst for struggling Americans, especially as it would take some of the political wind out of the Democrats’ collective sail?
At most turns throughout this historic and character-revealing year, the proponents of Big Government have shown why nanny state-styled leadership is not quite truly leadership at all – especially now. As the American people continue to watch politicians address the most minute of details (such as what constitutes a meal), government institutions local and otherwise have failed our nation on all fronts. We have failed in how to educate our young people effectively during the pandemic to picking “winners and losers” economically with non-transparent business closures and overreactive shutdowns of major portions of our economy.
Lean on the strength and ingenuity of the American people to weather the storm of 2020? No. Instead, Big Government bet on itself, and when the pressure was on and the stakes increased, it folded – repeatedly.
It pointed fingers internationally. It pointed fingers internally. It pointed fingers at the President, even in the midst of its own tragic missteps. It pointed fingers (and directed an iron fist) at constituents’ actions, even in the midst of its own pandemic-related hypocrisies over moves and marches.
And when it came to uncomfortable deadlines when people’s lives are on the line, it abdicated the leadership mantle once again and skipped town.
Sadly, this is nothing new in modern American politics. From the federal budget sequester (due to a failure to negotiate with good faith and leadership) to the sudden removal of American troops from Iraq (due to a failure of a Biden-led effort to negotiate effectively with the Iraqis, with our military void soon after filled by ISIS), we have suffered through the self-aggrandizing blunders of philosophy, rhetoric, and action that government has dragged us through. With each crisis, they have shown an inability and unwillingness to listen to all corners of our society, fixating only on its beloved echo chambers. With each misstep, they have shown a limited range of reactions: do a public relations pivot, blame others from the other party, and wait until the news cycle dies down – even if the problems that sparked a media story still remain.
It is true: some of this is our fault. It is true: we get the government that we deserve, through our own shortcomings on everything from a lack of term limits to a deficit of citizen engagement past Twitter fights and media bickering. We have allowed the judiciary to legislate unconstitutionally from the bench on matters of reform and elections alike. We have allowed legislators – direct representatives of the people at all levels of government — to insulate themselves as a separate ruling class with often ten times the net worth of those they represent, generally without much accountability for their jobs or activities. We have allowed elected executives to sound and act like dictators during times when freedom and trust must be bolstered the most.
Yet, it is essential for those who are elected to lead to cast aside the pretentious notions that confound good politics with good public optics. At a time when we need leaders to work together – especially when officials from governors to the President have used war-time diction to describe our situations in 2020 – we have yet to see a consistent effectiveness by those we count on the most. We have yet to see those in positions of power lay aside the partisan bitterness, the philosophical differences, and the background clashes for much longer than the proverbial “15 minutes” to lead effectively during times that uniquely try us.
Those who have disagreed bitterly in the past can find ways to come together in historic moments to bring victory to America. It was not that long ago when Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan disagreed on philosophy, yet together helped America escape the malaise that stemmed from the 1970s and win the Cold War throughout the 1980s. It was not that long ago when President George H. W. Bush led a global coalition to beat back the annexation of Kuwait by the late Saddam Hussein while delicately guiding the sunset of the Soviet Union. There are times in modern American history where we have seen notable examples of leadership in the political realm. However, those examples of historic and inspiring leadership – ones that prompt substantive change for Americans across the board – are not driven by Big Government personalities that vacate the side of the American people when times are the toughest. These days, it is easier – and even more acceptable and expected – for politicians to cast shade on their opponents than it is for them to be a beacon of light themselves.
The essential workers in hospitals, police forces, fire stations, grocery stores, manufacturing plants, and other noteworthy industries found a way to be unheralded heroes throughout America for months. They found a way through discomfort and fear to serve others, bridging us to better times now from when COVID-19 initially hit our shores. It is imperative that our “essential workers” in elected government follow their lead and be about the work (e.g., pass sensible and helpful legislation that creates avenues for a quality of life bounce-back in America). The time for that is now, not after recess. It is either that or we the people truly need to re-evaluate – and then address – who is truly “essential” and who is not in our nation’s and states’ capitals moving forward.