In 1981, I took a break from journalism to work as press secretary to then Illinois Congressman Paul Findley. I wanted to spend a few years learning how government worked from the inside.
It didn’t take long to destroy the few illusions I held about government “of the people, for the people and by the people.”
During a strategy meeting, Findley advocated a position that ran counter to what he knew the farmers in his mostly-agriculture district wanted.
“That goes against the wishes of your voters,” I said.
“They’re wrong,” Findley said. “I know more about the issue.”
At that meeting, I made the decision to leave Findley’s staff. I believed then, as I do now, that our elected officials work for us and answer to us.
The following year Findley, a 10-term congressman, lost his re-election bid to Richard Durbin who is now a Senator.
Somewhere along the line, too many of our elected officials forgot the concept that the government of the United States is “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
Our founding fathers, tired of rule by an English King who tried to impose his will on the people, envisioned a government that answers to the wishes of the majority.
When our leaders defy the will of the people, they chip away at the foundation of an American democratic republic. President George W. Bush says he’s “the decider.” That’s not the way democracy is supposed to work. The people are “the deciders.” Presidents and Congress are supposed to the “enforcers” of the decisions of the people.
Arizona Senator John McCain’s faltering presidential campaign is the latest example of what happens when an elected official thinks his opinion supersedes the will of the people. McCain, like Bush, admits openly that he “doesn’t care what the American people think” when it comes to the Iraq war.
He should care. By not caring, his campaign is sinking faster than Bush’s approval ratings. The people care and they are tired of elected leaders who put their agendas ahead of the folks who put them in office and who have the power to remove them.
The Republican leadership of Congress forgot it worked for the people and the people rose up and voted them out of office.
Polls show an overwhelming majority of American people believe Bush’s Iraq policy is a miserable failure. They want a quick end to a war they now know should never have been waged. They want American soldiers home and out of harm’s way.
But the President of the United States believes he, as the “commander in chief,” answers to no one – not the American people, not the Congress of the United States and not even the law of the land.
By sharing that attitude, McCain lost whatever chance he may or may not have had to become President. Americans have had it with “deciders.”
Yet the dwindling few who continue to support the war policies of Bush and McCain claim ignoring the will of the people is a sign of leadership, not failure.
I disagree. It is not leadership to ignore the will of a majority in a democratic form of government. It is an abdication of the oath that every President and every member of Congress swears when they promise to uphold the Constitution.
It is not leadership to conceal facts from the American public and Congress and offer up, instead, falsehoods to justify what is now recognized as both an illegal and immoral war in Iraq. It is an outright commission of “high crimes and misdemeanors” that qualifies as grounds for removal from office.
It is not leadership to put partisan political agendas above what is best for the nation. It is a violation of trust and breaking of promises made to the people who made the mistake of putting political partisans into positions of power.
Despite the best efforts of our leaders to usurp a government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” we the people still have the final say.
An ever-increasing number of we the people expressed our anger in last November’s mid-term elections. That anger is growing and we will show it again at the polls in November 2008.
Let this be a warning to Hillary, Rudy, Barack, Mitt and all the other Presidential wannabes.
This is our country.
We own it.