Every Father’s Day, I remember one distinct childhood memory that has guided me for the rest of my life.
I was complaining about something trivial. My mom, stopping me, asked me one of the most memorable questions I have ever been asked. “Think about your dad,” she said. “Have you ever heard him complain about anything?”
I was stunned. I could not call to mind a single time. My dad was a self-proclaimed optimist, often wearing a hat with the phrase “half-full.” His wisdom has stayed with me for years.
We tend to complain a lot about politics. There is an incredible amount of pessimism that persists in every discussion. We perceive Congress and our government to be a constant source of pointless bickering, trickery, and sycophancy. To a point, we may be right. Sometimes, however, I think those in public service deserve more credit.
At present, we are in the midst of a dismal period of our faith in government. Americans are expressing less confidence in Congress than ever before, Gallup reports.
The problem with these sentiments is that they form an easy justification for political disinterest. After all, why bother getting involved in changing our political systems if they are inherently corrupt? When we accept this tempting mindset, we only succeed in fulfilling our fears.
Take, for example, the common statement, “politicians only care about reelection.” At first glance, it seems to imply a selfish arrogance, a vain pursuit for glory rather than the common good. While this may be true for some elected officials, it also follows that the most powerful weapon to influence their beliefs becomes us, as constituents.
My friends who work on the Hill tell me stories of how congressmen are swayed by their constituents. Every phone call is answered, every letter is opened. Why? Because, above all, politicians need to get reelected, and that means they need to accurately represent the members of their districts.
In order to hold them to this duty, it is our responsibility, as voters, to stay informed. If we do not bother to keep up with current events, inform our representatives of our beliefs, or vote them out when they do not keep their promises, how can we criticize them for not accurately representing us? Perhaps we do not give enough credit to the men and women who work long hours in a comparatively low-paying occupation to stand up for their principles and those of their constituents.
However, this does not imply we should rely on our government to be the solution of all problems. Many government programs, built upon a foundation of good intentions, have resulted in worsening the conditions they set out to remedy. We can maintain a healthy skepticism of government programs without giving in completely to distrust and apathy.
Former Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX) served in the House of Representatives for 20 years. Even today, he has not lost his hope. When asked whether Americans should still be optimistic about politics, he responds,
“There are a lot of challenges in our democracy today, but the best proof that not all is wrong is that our immigration problem isn’t that millions of Americans are trying to leave our country for good. It’s that millions of people from throughout the world would do almost anything, including risking their lives, in order to come to our country to appreciate our freedoms and opportunities.”
My father always told me the glass is “half-full.” Instead of despair and loud complaining to fire Congress, let’s work toward appreciating the men and women in public service while still holding them accountable by staying involved.