So, I had been writing a post that addressed the recent lapses in character by New York’s political characters – mainly Paterson and Massa. Yet, I realized that not only is this not a new topic, it’s not even new to New York. What bothers me is the frequency of personal and professional misjudgments in today’s political arena and how it affects legislating.
I’m sorry but the first half of this post is about a week late and heavily focused on New York. Gov. Paterson is being implicated in everything from poor leadership skills to obstructing justice. I’ve regarded him as a terrible governor based on my determination that he’s disconnected from reality, mismanages everything including the media and does not provide workable solutions at a crucial time for the state.
And have you heard about this former Congressman Eric Massa? If you are a fan of Saturday Night Live you may have seen Jerry Seinfeld join Seth Meyers for a bit on SNL’s Weekend Update titled “Really?!? with Seth & Jerry.” They corrected mocked a ridiculous situation where Rep. Massa resigned his office only to reveal inappropriate, yet apparently not sexual, relationships with younger staff members. You know the usual “I wrestle and have tickle fights with my male staff members that I also live with” type of story.
For whatever reason, every time these stories come up I get frustrated. It’s like steroids in professional baseball. No matter how much I tell myself not to let it get to me and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway, it gets under my skin.
Granted, many of the political stories are personal issues involving infidelity or sexual relationships. I’m sure politics is not all that special when it comes to this. Executives of powerful companies, movie stars, professional athletes and other high intensity/high reward occupations have a large number of these stories too. In most cases, those individuals have not asked for the public’s trust. Maybe that’s what bothers me, I’m not even sure.
Whatever “it” is seems to go to character and integrity.
Which brought up two questions for me: does personal integrity for a politician matter any more or less than for a CEO or movie star?
Second, and much more relevant to this week, if we cannot trust them to keep their promises to their wives or to their constituents, can we trust that they’ll follow through on policy or legislation?
I do think personal integrity matters in politics. Because it matters in life. Just like you want to trust your accountant, business partner or doctor to be honest and keep their word, we want our politicians to as well. The only difference is a business partner or doctor can have affairs without it necessarily affecting their other responsibilities. Can a Congressman, Governor or President? Many people after the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal of the late ‘90s seemed to say yes.
Assuming that’s true, it brings up a larger question that is relevant to this week’s healthcare reform bill. Apparently, the White House decided that passing an average or limited bill was better than no bill at all. I’ve heard many commentators like Krugman and others claim that “we’ve” got to pass something and “we’ll,” meaning politicians or the people that elect them, go back and fix it later.
When I first heard this and wanted to write more about it, I simply wanted to post the following:
Is it better to get the legislation right and pass a good law? Or write a limited and perhaps flawed bill but promise to fix it later?
My reservation about this healthcare legislation is trust. I’m not convinced that politicians really change that much over time and I don’t trust them to go back and fix inaccuracies or flaws in this bill. Overall, am I glad we’re moving toward a policy that attempts to bring relief and help to people who are suffering or being taken advantage of by insurers? Yes. Do I trust Congress not to do more harm then good when trying to negotiate and pass this stuff? No.
Please don’t misunderstand. My goal is not to say that some politicians have personal problems and thus we can’t trust other politicians to pass good legislation (although it sure looks like that’s what I’ve written). On the contrary, my goal is test my own expectations when it comes to our elected officials and gain a realistic perspective on what we can expect from Congressional promises to mend healthcare in the future.
I’ve always been a supporter of action over inaction and I think one mistake the Republicans made recently was to become the party advocating inaction or non-action. Public policy needs to be tested, it needs to be attempted and most of all it needs to be trusted. I think a lot of people, generally, trust the President but not as many trust Congress. In fact, my political science professor used to say that approval ratings for individual Congressman are high but for Congress overall are extremely low. The general notion of politician is not one of trust. I guess I just wish that were more of a concern than a generally accepted statement.