Morons in a Great Democracy

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Morons in a Great Democracy

I have avoided political substance for ten years in Reading for Leading and I will continue to do so today on the eve of historic health care reform. The President will soon sign a major health care overhaul bill. If like me, you have heard nine times as much opinion as fact, then you might check the CBS News site for a simple factual summary. Our country needs you to be informed.

I want to address my leadership thought to you, citizens and media (and in a networked and blogging world, citizens are the media) – about the way we’re talking to each other about hugely important issues. And I implore people to be civil and truth-driven, rather than hostile and positional.

I heard a major news radio host on Friday condemn “those morons in Washington,” and I felt physically sick and wondered: am I the only one who finds that comment both repulsive and dangerous? It doesn’t matter whether the statement was made by a left-winger or a right-winger; they’d be equally repugnant. Would we call teachers, cashiers, engineers, parents, (insert your profession here) or doctors – morons? It’s not just offensive but doubly dangerous. First, supposed leaders like this talk show host are condoning name-calling, and that has NEVER solved a complex problem – only made it worse. Second, I wonder, as the spouse of a woman leading through excruciating decision after excruciating decision: why would any self-respecting person enter this field?

I look at representatives like the late Gerald Ford and Paul Henry, the retiring Vern Ehlers, and Carl and Sander Levin and think: morons? Are you kidding? These are spectacular people – brilliant, committed, attentive, doing their best in a complicated and challenging world.

So, here’s a constructive thought: next time you hear someone calling our elected officials morons, jellyfish, or idiots, invite them to run for something. Here’s what they will experience: Representatives and executives – from school board to congress to president – must understand tough issues and tradeoffs, gauge their own personal beliefs, absorb the passions of highly active citizens, assess what most of their highly inactive constituents (half a million in a Congressional district) want, and ask the hard question: if my constituents could see everything I see, would they still believe what the one-line polling question says they feel? What an awesome responsibility and privilege and challenge.

As silly season approaches, these elected people will largely rise or sink to the level of the factual and value-oriented bars we set for them. I hope as a citizen we will all try a little harder to

Lead with our best selves.