I’m concerned people view the recall elections on Tuesday as a finish line; that somehow all of this is going to come to an end one way or another, and we’ll all just happily move on. I wish I could say I believed that.
Perhaps the greatest challenge we’re faced with after June 5 is how we bring our state together for a greater good.
There are a lot of raw emotions, hurt feelings and resentment. Certainly there’s a lot of blame.
But as Peggy Noonan notes in Patriotic Grace, “Blame and bitterness are empty wells.” No good can come of them. What we’re in great need of is magnanimity.
Granting forgiveness and resisting vindictiveness will be tall orders, but we need to restore the faith in those we represent to show them their state government really can rise to the occasion and address today’s challenges.
It will not be easy, but we must do it. I think former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel had it about right when he noted being an elected official isn’t always easy. But as Sen. Hagel said, “If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes.”
I think there are a few important things for us to keep in mind moving forward — not just those of us at the Capitol, but those involved in activism on both sides.
First, the other political party is not the enemy. We need each other. We need a healthy debate of ideas to address big challenges like job creation and retention, K–12 and higher education, student debt, and a rising senior population as Boomers age, just to name a few.
We as legislators must acknowledge people’s fear and perception the wheels are coming off the train when it comes to state and federal government. It’s our job to restore faith and trust, and the only way we do that is by showing people we hear them and act accordingly.
We are uniquely and wonderfully American. As such, we don’t use the parliamentary system of government where an executive, or Prime Minister, is chosen from the legislative branch all of the same political party. The framers of the U.S. Constitution wisely laid out three distinct branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial — and ensured a separation of powers as well as checks and balances. Just because one party controls both the legislative and executive branch, it does not mean each can’t and shouldn’t be, at times, independent in their thinking. The American form of government was not devised to encourage one party control from top to bottom.
Finally, we have to understand we are all in this together. Former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell wrote in his autobiography of a poignant story that happened on the eve of Operation Desert Storm.
Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told of ABC-TV reporter Sam Donaldson asking a young soldier how he felt hours before the offensive against Iraq began.
“I’m not afraid. We’ll take care of each other. We’ll be ok,” the soldier said.
“Tell him again,” another soldier yelled. “He didn’t hear you.”
“We’ll be ok. We’re a family,” the first soldier said. “We take care of each other.”
Powell says the story never fails to make him emotional and has stayed with him in part because it’s a model for what our country needs today. He suggests we need to stop yelling at each other, stop screeching and start supporting, caring for and understanding one another. In short, we need to see our neighbors, and those we both agree and disagree with, as a family because we need each other. I agree.
I don’t have all the answers to bring our state back together after this election; no one does. But I do know this: if we treat one other with the dignity and respect we deserve as citizens of this great state, we’ll get there. We can be a shining beacon of good government for the country once again, and in doing so, move Wisconsin Forward.