When I was younger I remember listening to an interview, for the life of me I cannot remember who either the interviewer or the interviewee was, but for over a half century I recall a gentleman with a distinctly British accent say that we will not advance as a society until we accept that process is every bit as important as product. For purposes of validation the accent was on the o in each word so prod-uct was actually pronounced pro-duct and process was pronounced pro-cess.
As I embarked many years later on a career in government, politics and public policy I often gave great thought and reflection to these words of wisdom. Through studies at university in political science, public administration, and of course history, it struck me that the indomitable and irreplaceable concept that defined democratic governance was its reliance upon process(however you care to pronounce it). Later in life I would teach a college public policy course and devote considerable time outlining to my students the importance of the democratic process.
Statesmanship, like sportsmanship, undeniably rests upon the process upon which victory is achieved. Playing by the rules, adhering to a structure that is designed to produce a fair and judicious result, whether it is winning the game or securing a policy that results in the maximum benefits to society, is the lifeblood of an open democratic structure. Unfortunately, the principles of transparency, fairness, equity and justice today seem like quaint outdated fantasies of a simpler, less sophisticated time. Winning at any cost too often is not only accepted but actually taught in the classroom and on the playing field. Put simply, we have shortchanged democratic process and with the antics of the current administration we are putting it in grave jeopardy.
The current occupant in the White House has not only survived but thrived on a philosophy that cares little about consequences. It is contingent upon short-term gain at the risk of long-term pain and he is rapidly transforming the Republican Party into an organized crime syndicate that defies the rules while attempting to redefine and rewrite them. This is a death knell for democracy and it is reinforced by a cynical and frustrated populace that is far more comfortable in following than leading. Leadership is dismally out of touch and misguided, so we continue to drift in a sea of uncertainty. So much is at stake and we must rise above the drifting currents before we crash into the rocks.
I was an intern in the United States Senate in 1978, four years after Watergate chased Nixon out of the White House, two years after Jimmy Carter was elected President, and two years before Ronald Reagan would be elected President. As an idealistic, young liberal intent upon making a mark on the world by making it a better place through the processes of government I was treated to a front row seat in the greatest deliberative body in the world.
I soaked it up like a sponge. Each day I was witness to and participating in the internal dynamics of a select group of 100 individuals debating, yes actually debating, legislation. For students of the Congressional process the degree of comity and courtesy that accompanied heated debate and discussion of important policy proposals was mystical. There were Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, Birch Bayh, Gaylord Nelson, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Gary Hart, Frank Church, Scoop Jackson, Robert Byrd on the Democratic side, and Ted Stevens, Lowell Weicker, Bob Dole, Mac Mathias, Jesse Helms, Mark Hatfield, Bob Packwood, Howard Baker, and Barry Goldwater on the Republican side, and for good measure William Proxmire orbited in his own realm. These were powerful policymakers who, despite their diverse convictions, believed in the democratic process.
Watching them I felt that public service held the highest degree of satisfaction of any profession possible, whether as either an elected member or a senior level staffer. In time I would spend 6 years as a professional staff member of the Senate Budget Committee, poised at the intersection of a mammoth battle over the fate of supply-side economics and it was exhilarating, even though I was on the losing end of most every battle.
But as an athlete I enjoyed the thrill of the fight. Winning in fact was not everything, nor as Vince Lombardi said the only thing. Fighting the good fight proved that the system actually was working. Process reigned over product and one day I was sure that in the end both would triumph. Unfortunately today we find process to be ignored and product flawed.
It does not have to be this way. In my lifetime things have changed demonstrably for the worse. I have witnessed profiles in courage in my lifetime, on both sides of the aisle. And even though I may disagree with many of my Republican friends on the right as long as we can agree on the rules of engagement we can all live to fight another day.
Today, however, the only rules of engagement seem to be whatever can get the majority party across a mythical finish line. No clearer perversion of democratic thought than the President acceding to the failure of the Affordable Care Act as a way to punish 32 million Americans is the current state we find ourselves in. How incredibly undemocratic, childish, and pathetic.
There are some Republicans willing to admit that it is past time to engage in a bipartisan dialogue over a solution to an issue which is literally a life or death affair for many Americans. One proponent of this approach is Arizona Senator John McCain. Well I have certainly had my differences with him over the course of his Senatorial career on most policy issues, but I will always respect his service to the country and the sacrifice he made on behalf of our democratic government while a prisoner of war. Further, in one of the most encouraging political acts of all time his defense of Barack Obama in a town hall meeting in the ’08 campaign will forever be etched in my political hall of fame. He steadfastly told a woman in the audience that in fact Obama was a good man, not an Arab as she proclaimed, and that he just thought that the two had differences on policy. Contrast that with the take no prisoners approach of Donald Trump.
Now that he is facing a health issue that very well could signal the end of his career it would be only fitting if he took the reins of control of the GOP and led the troops into an alliance that improved the opportunities for millions of Americans to benefit from an effective, comprehensive, and affordable health care program. The sad irony is a modern day Mr. Smith Goes to Washington remake. But more importantly, it just might work.
In the process he might also be able to champion a return to civility that is so desperately required at this critical juncture in our history by putting policy over politics and country over party. It can be done, Trump is incapable of doing it, McConnell is severely damaged and seems lost in his own futile impotence, and this is an opportunity for the Arizona Senator to perform one last act of valor in a career that has been distinguished by fortitude and guts.
So your country is calling upon you one last time Senator, show us what you’ve got.