As the dust begins to settle in this recent election, it is apparent that we remain a nation divided. On the other hand, maybe not. The news media is describing the mood of the country as having a great deal of “anti-democrat” sentiment or as having an “anti-incumbent” sentiment and while I suppose both of those exist, I think that there is a larger unifying theme that joins many of us regardless of our general political leanings. As such, today’s blog is an open letter to all of our elected officials from our local city councilpersons and county commissioners, all the way up to the current resident of the White House. Here, I want to say a few things that our leadership would hear from all of us over a long lunch, and a few things that I’ve learned from my family, my friends and from life in general.
To all of our elected officials of every kind,
If you were recently elected (or re-elected) I would like to caution you not to get a big head. There is a good chance that your election had little to do with you, personally, and a lot to do with the performance (or lack thereof) of your predecessor. Lately, we voters are all kind of tired of what we are seeing and we’ve been in the mood to throw out leaders who are not living up to our expectations. As you begin your new terms, here are a few things to watch out for:
1) Keep your promises. To you this may seem trite or even quaint but for a lot of us, honor is still important. We understand that it’s common for politicians to promise the moon so that they can get elected, but be careful what you promise, because, despite the rumors to the contrary, we’re not stupid and we will remember what you said. George Bush promised “No new taxes” but failed to keep his promise. We remembered. Barak Obama promised that his administration would never vote on legislation without having a minimum of seven days for the public to look it over. That didn’t happen. This week’s election is a hint that we haven’t forgotten your promises… even if you did.
2) You can’t spend more than you make. This is so simple it seems silly to have to point it out. Every couple of weeks I get a paycheck and every month I get bills for stuff that I have to pay. This happens to everyone that I know, for every business that I know and for the church where I work. Once in a while I can spend more than I make. I took a huge pay cut when I became a pastor and went to seminary. Our pay cut was so large and the bills for seminary were so big that things didn’t even out. To make up the difference, we spent some of the money we had from selling our house. We knew it couldn’t last but we also knew that my time in seminary would only last for a few years. When people spend more than they make, whether it’s because they bought a house or a car or a flat screen TV, sooner or later they need to pay for it. For about fifty years now, our leaders have been spending more than our government takes in. Lately, it has only gotten worse. We can’t understand why you don’t think it’s a problem. We know it’s a problem. It worries us. We expect you to fix it (or at least get started). If you ignore this, again, we will replace you… again.
3) People don’t like change regardless of how much they say they want it or need it. This one is harder to understand but I’ve seen it enough times in my community and in my church that I know it’s true. When my school system needed a new school building they had a hard time convincing people that we should build a new one. Our old school was almost a hundred years old, had dozens of building code violations, wasn’t handicap accessible and was full of asbestos. On top of that, the state of Ohio was willing to pay for more than half of a new building which mean that a new building would cost millions less than the cost of repairs to the old one. Still, the school board took over a year, with dozens of special meetings to convince the community that it was necessary and the vote was still close. I’ve known people with serious health problems who endured months of suffering before they were convinced to go see a doctor. We get comfortable in our routine. We want you to do your job, but you need to know that change is scary. Before you make changes, you need to explain what you are doing, let us think about it for a while and then proceed slowly and carefully so we can see how things are going. This is especially important because our trust in you is not particularly high right now.
4) The bigger the project, the more support you need. You will probably not find this anywhere in your history books but this is a place where our government has created division and animosity between its own citizens. Last year, I was interviewing pastors who had been involved in merging churches or in church building projects. These are two of the biggest changes ever experienced in the life of a church. One of the rules that emerged from these interviews was that if there was not a minimum of 70 to 80 percent support for the change, then they would go back and start over. In a church, failing to gain a super-majority of support for a big project will likely mean that people will be so angry that they leave the church. In our nation, when you pass really big projects with only a slim majority, you create animosity and division instead of unity and cohesiveness. You don’t need to wonder why our nation has become so polarized because you are the ones who did it, Republicans and Democrats alike.
Don’t think that because you’ve won the election, that you can do whatever you want. Don’t think that because you have a majority, that you can do whatever you want. In recent decades we’ve seen several major shifts from Democrat to Republican and back again. Please remember that it isn’t about what you call yourself, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or whatever, it’s much more important that you do the things that we sent you to do.
Feel free to ignore us…
…but then again…
…your predecessors did…
…and they’re not here anymore.