We’ve reached a point in America where the general public feels its elected officials are out of touch with reality and that, especially at the Federal level, the incumbents should be thrown out of office so that we may start over. Various polls by national news services have dutifully reported President Obama’s precipitous slip in popularity. The outcry from the common man reached a crescendo when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, voiced her desire to "redistribute income" so that the poorest among us could live in a style befitting those at the top of the food chain.
"No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session," one pundit proclaimed. Many folks I know agree fully with that sentiment in 2010; it was originally voiced by Samuel "Mark Twain" Clemens back in 1866.
Twenty-five years later, in 1891, Clemens drew laughs when he said, "Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a Member of Congress. But, then, I repeat myself."
The man celebrated as Mark Twain died 10 years into the 20th century. The torch he carried while looking at our nation’s leadership with an irreverent eye was passed to a fellow famous for saying, "I never met a man I didn’t like." Will Rogers, American humorist, who himself died in 1935 in a plane crash with famed aviator Wiley Post, wryly declared that Americans should be justly proud of legislators.
"We have the best Congress money can buy!" he proclaimed.
Mark Twain and Will Rogers came along, of course, in times preceding instant electronic communications. News took a little longer to reach the rank-and-file citizenry. Women and minorities could not vote in Twain’s day, and only late in Rogers’ life did America’s women obtain suffrage.
As times changed, so did the ways in which the common man became aware of what elected leaders actually do with the power of representation with which they have been entrusted. Instead of a folksy humorist revealing general ineptitude, modern reporters fill daily newscasts with one Congressional story after another ranging from ethics violations to homosexual conduct to tax evasion.
Indeed, CBS News reported, on the Sunday evening program "60 Minutes," that Pelosi sponsored legislation giving tax breaks to tuna canning operators in the South Pacific; this was problematic in that Pelosi’s husband owns the largest tuna operation in American Samoa.
"When people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic," a well-known statesmen wrote. That gentleman was none other than Ben Franklin.
Americans, even those who lean decidedly to the left, have become dismayed and downright angry as the current administration has nearly doubled the national debt in less than two years. Unemployment continues to soar, taxes on those fortunate enough to have work continue to climb, yet the President took nine vacations in the first eight months of 2010.
Thus we come to mid-term elections. Republicans, Libertarians, independent voters and Tea Party advocates have united in proclaiming "it’s time to throw the bums out."
Well, there’s an old adage which admonishes "be careful what you wish for: You may get it!"
Simply put, it warns to have a plan before indiscriminately throwing all the bums out of office. The replacements have to be more than just pretty faces with catchy slogans. The burden of representing each person in one’s district is not a chore to be taken lightly. One must govern following firm convictions embraced by the majority of one’s district; one must never make decisions based in ignorance.
The magnitude of the problem of identifying with all walks of life of the people one represents came home to me one summer as I stood in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown. It dawned on me that the second and third generation Chinese-Americans, operating shops and restaurants founded by their forefathers, could not possibly relate to the values held dear in the heart of this good ole Southern boy. And I — ignorant to their condition — had no way to identify with theirs.
Political candidates who take office in this mid-term election will be tasked with nothing less than fixing our broken system and restoring the American dream — tasks which would give anyone pause.
George Washington uttered these words of cautionary advice:
"Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder. Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism."
When this season of political unrest reaches its flash point, as voters mull the candidates yearning for election, let us remember to "be careful what you wish for; you may get it."
Indeed we may. I only hope Will Rogers will like ‘em.
Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.