I want to thank the Congressional Management Foundation and SHRM for recognizing the importance of surveying and reporting on the reality of the life and commitment of a member of congress in their report "Life in Congress: A Member's Perspective."
I was not surprised by the findings. Most elected officials do work very hard and are aware of the honor and responsibility to others such a position carries. Indeed, without a competent and dedicated staff they could not optimally respond to their constituent's requests or keep up with the policy and legislative challenges. So why do we judge them so quickly and why is the conversation today unsupportive, to say the least? I think I may be part of the problem.
Contributing to CMF's report was a cathartic process and it also presents an opportunity to expand some personal thoughts a bit further. When you are in the midst of a political life, it feels as if the personal part of your life is put on hold and you have to hold your breath and hope for the best until it is over. Actually, it is put on hold, particularly for the elected official, as was indicated by the member responses that showed only 15 percent of their time was focused on family and friends. Political staffers and their families fare much the same. What was said to me more than once while my spouse was immersed in the job of politics was that by choosing politics we asked for whatever lack of family time and privacy or criticism, warranted or unwarranted, we received. If it is too hot, stay out of the kitchen sort of thing. I know I never accepted that as a justification for some of the challenges a family may encounter in such a life but, honestly, I may still perpetuate the notion by not speaking more frequently in appreciation of those who work hard to stay in office, both while a public servant and as a candidate.
If one takes nothing else from the report about a congressional work-life and workplace one should realize that whether you agree or not with the laconic outcomes you may desire the process itself is healthiest when they are forced to build relationships and compromise. The majority of politicians I have observed, either as a personal friend or in awe from a distance, always possessed the quality of conviction. They truly wanted to contribute to the excellence of governance in this country and were willing to fight for their beliefs. I may not have agreed with their chosen path of regulation, but I had to respect their efforts to "move the wagon" forward. At the same time, another member may see the solution through a different lens. If, together, they can find a common ground, use the strengths in each set of ideals and make good policy, then we have collaboration.
Having lived in the eclipse of a political family, I will remember to appreciate and acknowledge those who are giving their time and talents to keep our communities, our states and our country strong and effective globally. I hope the Congressional Management Foundation continues to uncover the strengths and merits of our extraordinary system of government that truly serves us well.