Each week reveals more crazy from the Republican Party, and the House GOP in particular. The angry petulance over the new House Speaker working out a deal with Democrats to avert (for now) a shutdown of the government that would have happened tonight was to be expected. So once again House Republicans proved no matter how bad they get, they can still get worse. I won’t chronicle it all here for you now. Since you’re on this blog I assume you’ve kept up with things.
Clearly, with increasing frequency Republican voters are sending way less than the best to DC. It’s become a point of pride to send crass-ass political jackass performance artists instead of serious people, people with actual knowledge and more importantly desire to actually do the people’s business. I’m old enough to remember when people prided themselves on the quality and character of those they elected, especially to federal office. Sure, sometimes a crackpot or corrupt person slipped through but voters tried to send their best. And the people who made it to DC tried to be worth of the responsibilities entrusted to them.
That’s no longer true. Again, I don’t need to provide a laundry list of people in DC (or who want to return – looking at you Trump!) of people unfit for local office, much less federal office now walking the halls of power. It got me to thinking about an episode of West Wing and a question that haunts me all these years later. For those who weren’t fans, or for you younger folks (the series ended in 2006 and sadly reruns even of a limited number of episodes are rare) the general theme is that of a liberal NH Gov., a descendant of a NH member of the states delegation to Congress that voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence becomes President. It’s fast pace and covers all manner of what takes place in the WH, and interactions with Congress. If you’re progressive you loved it and if conservative you didn’t.
The fictional President Josiah “Jed” Bartlett (played by Martin Sheen) is one of those brilliant, once in a generation minds. His key staff are way the hell above the norm in brainpower and ability too, and interestingly enough so are most of the Republicans they do battle with. Most. As for Bartlett one of his electoral problems is the fact he’s so smart and it shows, which rubs a lot of regular folks the wrong way. The series ran from 1999 to 2006 and some loose parallels can be drawn from the smart, studios Al Gore and the good at playing regular guy George W. Bush in the 2000 election. Only Bartlett was more dynamic than Gore.
During re-election Bartlett faces a GOP nominee who plays “I’m a regular guy, not one of those fancy pants educated types” to the hilt. As Gov. of Florida he’s of course smarter than he lets on but not on the level of Bartlett or his senior staff for that matter. And he’s a smug asshole, but it’s his playing dumb that bugs Bartlett, and not just because it’s effective in getting support from voters. One of the series’ key characters has an assistant who never finished college yet is as smart and savvy, not to mention hard-working and capable as anyone on the staff. Josh, the assistant Chief of Staff would be lost without her, something he and everyone else (not just in the WH) knows.
Anyway, poor Donna gets saddled with all sorts of special projects that suck. During the re-election one of them is to attend a day long seminar by some looney self-help guru who’s an advisor to the GOP nominee. Josh wants Donna to blend in and take notes on things that they can use to embarrass Gov. Ritchie with. She tells him it’s cheap stuff but she goes, and reports back at the end of the day. After having a bit of fun with Josh (for making her go – she was stuck sitting next to a weirdo guy by the name of “Fern”) she says that while it was superficial crap (well duh!) there wasn’t anything all that objectionable the “guru” “Teddy Tomba” spouted. So Josh takes the “Owner’s Manual” she’d given to him and gives it back and says open it to any page.
I urge you to watch this scene to see what I’m talking about when I speak of the quality, or lack thereof of the people Republican voters want to govern us:
We should insist, even demand the best to represent us. At the very least they should be way the hell above average. In intellect. In accomplishments and ability. In character. In work ethic. Great people, yet also with a dose of humility. People who, as I recall from my initiation ceremony as Master of my Masonic Lodge four decades ago recognizes that although elevated for a time above his fellow Masons is first and foremost an individual Mason and should be interested in the welfare of each and all. Replace the word Mason with citizen and you get the point.
So the scene, which I really hope you watched haunts me when I think about it because sadly, the answer to Josh’s question has for conservatives, and especially MAGAs been no. In fact, the very qualities we should expect, the Josh articulates (which should apply to any elected official, not just a President) are liabilities for a huge chunk of those who vote Republican!
It’s a sobering thought. And a question we should be putting out there, over and over again. I’m proud that the very first vote I cast was for Jimmy Carter. I devoured his book, and just remembered the title: Why Not the Best? It’s a question he delves in to in describing his life up to that point. He was himself haunted by a seminal moment during his active duty time in the Navy. A brilliant graduate of the Naval Academy he found himself being interviewed by the legendary Hyman Rickover to become one of those who would help create the nuclear powered Navy. At the end Rickover asked Carter how he’d done at Annapolis and while I don’t recall his class rank it was up there and Carter was proud to answer the question.
Rickover looked at him and asked “Did you always do your best?” Carter absorbed the question and answered honestly (this IS Jimmy Carter after all) ‘No sir, I didn’t always do my best.” To which Rickover responded “Why Not” and turned away, ending the interview. A shaken Carter left the room, and even though he did get the position that moment stuck with him. A look at his life, including his time in politics shows how much he pushed himself. Yet he wasn’t the only one in public service who pushed themselves hard. The old saying about “With great power comes great responsibility” meant something, and those in elected office, who didn’t subscribe to that philosophy were viewed with disdain and proverbially shoved to the back of the room.
Now they are calling the shots. At least on the Republican side of the aisle. So perhaps that’s a way to connect with conservatives you know. Especially older ones who remember when parents didn’t heap scorn on those with great educations, but instead pushed their children to aspire to attending the best schools. Who remember a time when politicians, especially those in DC understood the power they could wield and at least much of the time, whether one agreed with their views on an issue or not could be accepted as acting in good faith to try and improve things.
And who in recent times haven’t been shunned by the Republican Party instead of being looked to to lead it.
Republicans are too willing to settle for (crazy) characters instead of people with character. Who never ask themselves if they have, or are giving their best. Frankly, I think our candidates need to start bluntly asking it of their GOP opponents. Over and over again, to the point where journalists have to start talking about it.
So, with all that I say “Good Night and Good Luck.”