As I watched the Republican candidates for President debate last night I could not help but wonder, where have all the Statesmen gone. The posturing, preening, and pandering of the majority of the unwieldy group would be somewhat entertaining if you were watching a comic movie…but quickly becomes frightening when the reality is that one of the narcissistic cadre will be the Republican candidate for President of the United States. How has our great nation lowered it’s aspirations for the preeminent elected leader of our country to the basement level of applauding bigotry and misogyny as admired speech in the spirit of the candidate being bold and saying what he thinks? How is it that a candidate breaking unions and putting thousands of workers on the street or forcing members of the working middle class, which is the backbone of our country, into minimum wage jobs… progressive policies and courageous leadership?
As we all know from our ninth grade civics class our government is designed by our founding fathers to be shared power. The writers of our constitution did not want another king. Thus they designed political decision making to be collaborative or a compromise system. There is supposed to be a middle ground that statesmen and stateswomen can agree together for the good of our collective endeavor where each side gain some of their initiatives and loose others or modify them.
A prime example of dysfunction in government is our current Illinois mess. Although we are supposed to have a new budget July first we have yet to have even the outlines of an agreement. Our local University, Southern Illinois University, fears massive layoffs and course reductions while much of state services are being mandated by the courts to be paid at last year’s spending levels…resulting in the very real possibility of an eight to twelve billions dollar deficit by the end of the fiscal year. The deficit being compounded dramatically due to our new Governor Rauner’s allowing state taxes to be reduced costing the states coffers over five billion dollars. This fiscal nightmare is magnified by the fact that Illinois was, with the additional taxes, three to five billions dollars in deficit.
It was announced a couple of days ago that since there is no budget the state will soon cease to pay all employees and retirees health, dental, and vision insurance claims that are state funded. This places the price of our elected leaders intransigence and fiscal malfeasance squarely on the backs of the poor working class citizens of Illinois.
The late Senator Paul Simon of Illinois was a Statesman. Toward the end of his life my wife and I were at a book signing whereupon he greeted us warmly and inquired as to how we were doing. When Mary Jane, who had gone back to school and earned her masters degree at age 40, mentioned that she was looking for work commensurate with her recent Workforce Education masters degree he asked her to make an appointment with his assistant for him to talk with her in his office at Southern Illinois University, where he would see if could help her. Now let me say that we did not know the Senator other than he being a member as we were of the SIU community nor had we worked in one of his campaigns or donated any money to his political causes. Senator Simon had been out of politics for several years and had become the Director of the Public Policy Institute at SIU. This Statesman was respected on both sides of the aisle during his years in the Senate and at his funeral both Senator Edward Kennedy and Senator Alan Simpson spoke eloquently regarding Paul Simon’s political skills and his love for humanity.
Speaking your mind and the courage of convictions is indeed important in politics and as a mark of a strong leader. President Ronald Reagan told Soviet Premier Gorbachev to, “Tear down this Wall,” and something great occurred that benefited humanity. President Lyndon Johnson spoke his mind and the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 became the law of the land and we all our better for it. Dr. Martin Luther King had a Dream…and was spat upon…and jailed…and killed…and he changed our world for the better.
Let each of us as voters…and the people responsible for our lawmakers and Chief Executive ponder our responsibility to obtain the leadership that we deserve.