An interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times recently made the case for more aggressive leadership in Congress. It concluded with the following paragraph:
Politicians play in a rugged arena and are understandably obsessed about losing power. But that power needs to be used for something other than perpetual re-election. The next two years will challenge lawmakers of both parties to demonstrate that they came to Washington for a purpose.
The article generally faults a number of Senators for failure of nerve and the Democrats generally for their lack of cohesion, sense of purpose, and their timidity. They are in a position of power and influence after the recent election yet they hesitate to take charge and lead the country. Instead they wait to see which way the wind is blowing and adjust their sails accordingly.
This is a most interesting point. I have referred in previous blogs to Joseph Schumpeter’s claims in the 1940s that the only real job professional politicians have any more is to get re-elected. This is certainly one of the author’s points above when he refers to “perpetual reelection.” But his point that those in Congress need to step up to the plate and take a healthy cut — to assume the mantle of leadership and show a bit of courage — is well taken. Even in a political climate where those with large purses call the shots, there is room for an occasional Congressman to play a leadership role, though I recognize that it takes courage. Rather than simply holding up a wet finger to see which way the political wind blows, or transferring allegiance to the lobbyists who wait in the outer office to take them to dinner and fatten their campaign war chests, one wonders whether a courageous man or woman might not appear on the horizon who is willing to take a risk in order to do the right thing. Imagine the groundswell of popular support for such a person!
The article focuses attention on several possible candidates, among whom one of the more interesting is the Senator from West Virginia who won re-election by a large margin and is in a position to take a decisive stand on the issue of gun control. Instead, we are told:
. . . senators have an obligation to lead public opinion, not to follow it blindly. Hunters in red states know full well that a semiautomatic weapon bristling with military features is unnecessary to bring down a deer or a duck. If Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who just won re-election comfortably, were to make that case, he might change a few minds, given his unquestionable support for Second Amendment rights.
If Mr. Manchin explained that such a ban was anything but a “gun grab,” people would pay attention. Instead, though he supports background checks, he will not endorse anything further.
Whether Joe Manchin hears the call to leadership remains to be seen. One does begin to doubt. The siren call of reelection seems so much more alluring where a high-paying job is assured and little is demanded but continued efforts to please those who slip them money under the table. It is sad to admit that Schumpeter may well be right: the only thing on the minds of a majority of those in Washington is hanging on to the soft job that offers them a public spotlight when they want it and job security as long as they don’t rock the boat.