A couple weeks ago I was asked to emcee and speak at an event called Practical Federalism. The event’s significance was so important it featured several presidential candidates and garnered national press attention.
In preparing for the day and what I would say, one phrase kept swirling around in my mind: Do your job. In the middle of this vote harvesting season, with talk of dysfunction, partisan bickering and ever increasing dissatisfaction with government at all levels, the words of Patriots coach Bill Belichick provided clarity as to why “We the People” have found ourselves in this state of disappointment. Much like a failing business or dysfunctional family, government stumbles when people are not focused on the true intent of their jobs.
Too many public servants have lost sight of their responsibilities, do not truly understand what those responsibilities are or don’t care. It is time for us as a country to recommit ourselves to doing our job and holding people at all levels of public service accountable.
The simplicity of “Do your job” is not lost on most responsible people who possess a healthy dose of commonsense. Many of us have seen success and failure. Those who value life’s lessons develop a keen sense of what works and what doesn’t. It is not necessary to fully embrace the Pavlovian approach to learned behavior, but simply learning fire burns and “biting off more than you can chew” are good lessons more politicians and public servants should embrace. Drunk with power is a perfect analogy to describe many of our elected servants and their bureaucratic allies. Our professional political class lacks self-control, stumbles about, interjects themselves into situations where they don’t belong or don’t fully understand, and the more they consume, the fewer brain cells they seem to possess.
Most of us are introduced to the basic concepts of governing by being part of a family. If our family is functional, and generally speaking most are, we learn about economics, security/defense, interpersonal relationships, education and the benefits of a strong social commitment by simply watching our parents and other families. A family is a government unto itself, responsible for the same things, although in a microcosm, that every government should be responsible for.
Our parents understood economics is no more complicated than making sure the priority is making enough money to feed, clothe and provide shelter for the family first. Once you took care of the basic needs, you tried to save for a “rainy day,” and if the fruits of your labor permitted, you helped those in need. You avoided spending beyond your needs because you knew that would place your family in jeopardy, and that charity above luxury was your duty. You ensured your home was safe, that doors and windows could be secured, and you had emergency equipment such as smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, and you had an escape plan in the case of an emergency.
You watched for any strange activity on your street, and when your neighbors were away you watched their home. You respected the boundaries of your property and expected the same from your neighbors, but if there was a problem you chatted with them. This was easy as you had a rapport with them, watching their kids as they played in the street or lending them tools or a cup of sugar. You honored your neighbor’s privacy, but understood some activities should not be tolerated, and to ignore them would eventually affect the harmony of the neighborhood.
Your family understood education began at home, and so your parents made sure you could read and write, and that you understood the basic concepts of time, how to tie your shoes and be self-reliant. As you went to school, you built upon that foundation, yet your family was still involved in your education helping you with homework, participating in school activities and seeking additional help for matters beyond your family’s means or skills. Your parents understood they were not raising kids, but adults, future citizens.
There is a lot to be learned from the minimalism of our first experience with the concept of governing. We learned first-hand about the perils that could occur when any family member failed to do their part. Many kids sat at the front steps of a school because one parent forgot to pick them up, often because that parent was doing more than they could handle. It is normal, and understandable, but also a simple example of what happens when we fail to “Do our job.”
I know some will dismiss my “Leave it to Beaver” analogy, asking what about this or that. Some will miss the comparison between how a family functions and how a government should function. The point goes back to “Do your job” and applies from the federal government down to city and town governments and families. We have a tiered approach to governing for a reason, and the biggest reason for the dysfunction, partisan bickering and ever increasing dissatisfaction with government is because we have surrendered too much power to the federal government. Our government lacks the simplicity of bringing solutions closer to the issues.
Our government is failing because we are failing as guardians. Our politicians are not doing their jobs because we are not doing ours. Maybe we should not be asking politicians what they would do. Maybe we should ask “why is that your responsibility?” Maybe we should recommit to the original, bottom-up approach to government our Founding Fathers intended, and tell the politicians and bureaucrats at all levels to “Do your job.”