Leadership is a privilege. We are all called to some form of leadership: in our homes, workplaces and the civic and church communities. However, positions of leadership are something to be earned and carry a great responsibility.
The present reality in our political system amazes me. If we believe the media and the pundits, “the American people” each fall into a distinct category. We are either liberal or conservative. We are either Democrat or Republican, except for those crazy third-party people to whom no one pays attention.
Our politicians should know better. I know many self-identified Republicans who disagree with the Republican Party on certain platform policies. I know plenty of self-identified Democrats who disagree with their party.
Our politicians, by virtue of representing us before the nation and the world, should strive to be above the mud. I’ll grant that their campaigns are waged by underlings, but the politicians themselves should strive to be the model of decorum and respectful, productive disagreement.
Before I show the example that got me fired up last week, this is not a single-party issue. Both sides have this problem. While I’m about to call out a Republican, I could just as easily done it with a Democrat.
The Honorable John Cornyn, U.S. Senator from Texas, is an outspoken critic of President Obama. His right to be, and truthfully, his duty when he believes his constituents would not be well-served by a policy of the President.
He tweeted this on January 19th:
POTUS in Disneyland today. Not much new here.
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) January 19, 2012
For background, he wasn’t there on vacation. He delivered a 13-minute speech on boosting travel and tourism.
Sen. Cornyn mixing up Disneyland and Disney World is quite forgivable. The Senator implying that our president lives in a fantasy land is not. It isn’t helpful. Rhetoric like this, from our country’s leaders, doesn’t serve any purpose. If Sen. Cornyn said that the President’s tourism ideas are wrong or misguided, that’s fine. An empty dismissal of the President is incredibly disrespectful to him and his office.
My dad served in the Air Force for 21 years. He worked in civil service for the DoD for another 15, working until two days before he died. My father’s entire professional life was dedicated to this country. Of the things that he taught me, which were crystal clear, is you never disrespect the Office of the President or the current occupant.
It didn’t matter if you voted for him, liked him, hated him. You respect the President. Disagree with him, but do it respectfully.
I didn’t get the memo regarding senators. I flipped when I read that my senator, one of 100 that lead the upper, more dignified chamber of the U.S. Congress, bashed the President as such. Out of respect for him, I sent him, via Twitter’s direct messaging function (thus private, not public), a few of my thoughts. I admit, I was a bit of a hothead:
Yeah, okay, pulling the plank out of my own eye. I wasn’t very respectful. Honestly, I didn’t think he would read them. I figured a PR staffer handled his social media, dismiss them and call it a day. Something akin to writing an upset letter to a company. I was wrong. The senator replied back on Sunday.
Holy! The United States Senator who, along with Sen. KBH, represents me and 25,145,560 other Texans, replied back personally to me? On a Sunday morning? Whoa. +1 to Sen. Cornyn for having personal dialogue with his constituents. I don’t expect my mayor, much less my senator, to read constituent letters, much less hotheaded rants from them.
But, what did he say to me? That I’m bothered by disagreement and free speech? Wait, what? He just told one of his constituents who was upset that he was being disrespectful that I have a problem with disagreement and free speech? There is an absolute difference.
My freedom of speech gives me the right to say “Senator John Cornyn is a jerk who, I believe, hates puppies.” But, I wouldn’t say that. Not publicly outside my close circle of friends, at least.
Disagreement would mean: “I disagree with Senator John Cornyn’s policies on Tweeting. It is the wrong approach for a Senator.” Disagreement isn’t “The senator lives on fantasy island and hates puppies.”
(These were sent Sunday. I sent him another message informing him that I’d be writing about this on here. As of 6:55 a.m. Tuesday, no response).
Without a doubt, I could have handled my initial reaction better. But he is a UNITED STATES SENATOR. People stand when he walks in a room. If he visited a foreign country, he would get a diplomatic passport for the trip. I don’t represent him—he represents me. We pay him $174,000+ a year to lead.
I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. I’ve voted for candidates on both sides of the aisle. I want government to work.
As a country, we need politicians who are better than this. Both sides of the aisle. Both elected branches.