The United States Senate is currently embroiled in a kind of chaos created by a complete lack of leadership and a hyper-focus on political power. A profile in courage the Senate is not, and the once-great deliberative body is no longer the place for elevated dialogue and debate. It has sadly careened and crashed upon the rocks of political rhetoric, rank, cowardice and cronyism.
The current battle over health care is following what has become an all-too-common pattern in Congress: craft a bill in secret, don’t give members a chance to read it, provide no time for real amendments, debate or compromise, create an artificial “cliff” or Armageddon moment, buy off enough votes to pass it, and demonize anyone who dares to challenge the process or policy substance.
This has happened not just with the current Republicans in charge, as Democrats have followed a similar path when they had the majority. The GOP howled when Obamacare was passed with votes that became synonymous with senators getting something for themselves or their state, including the “Cornhusker kickback” and the “Louisiana purchase.” Republican meetings in back rooms over the past several days are working to secure votes in a similar fashion.
While senators and their staff are busy trying to get something for themselves or for their respective states, where are the leaders who are trying to get something for hardworking Americans? The cowardice that comes from seeking perpetual power and re-election, along with the benefits of a cronyism-infested swamp, prevent citizen-centered solutions from getting passed.
"The Power of Truth" was published in 1902 in England by Episcopalian author William George Jordan. (It has an interesting Utah connection in that Heber J. Grant came across this tiny book and was so impressed by it that he purchased 4,000 copies, began giving them away and ultimately purchased the copyright.)
The book contains many lessons that are more pertinent than ever to curing the cowardice and selfish cronyism of today’s Congress. Jordan wrote, “Truth can stand alone, for it needs no chaperone or escort. Lies are cowardly, fearsome things that must travel in battalions. They are like a lot of drunken men, one vainly seeking to support another. He who sacrifices his ideals, truth and character for mere money or position, is weighing his conscience in one pan of a scale against a bag of gold in the other. He is loyal to what he finds the heavier, that which he desires the more — the money. But that is not truth. Truth is the heart’s loyalty to abstract right, made manifest in concrete instances.”
Jordan astutely pointed out, even in the world of 1902, “The politician who is vacillating, temporizing, shifting, constantly trimming his sails to catch every puff of wind of popularity is a trickster who succeeds only until he is found out. A lie may live for a time, truth for all time. A lie never lives by its own vitality; it merely continues to exist because it simulates truth. When it is unmasked, it dies.
In a caution for leaders of every era, Jordan concludes, “Men who split hairs with their conscience, who mislead others by deft, shrewd phrasing designedly uttered to produce a false impression, are untruthful in the most cowardly way they forgive themselves their crime in congratulating themselves on the cleverness of their alibi.”
Watching the continued lack of courage and leadership in Washington today, I am reminded of the well-known scene in "A Man for All Seasons" where Sir Thomas More delivers one of the most powerful and poignant lines of all time. More has been betrayed by Richard Rich, who, after falsely testifying against More, was rewarded by being made attorney general for Wales. More confronts his betrayer with: "Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world but for Wales?"
But for Wales? In the midst of the current debate, senators should honestly ask themselves, “And all this to what end?” The great prize at the end of this latest backroom deal? Republicans are likely to get the prize of all prizes — credit for the collapse of the already crumbling health care system.
Leaders with courage, not cowardice, who reject the benefits of cronyist privilege in order to achieve better health care outcomes for the hardworking and often-forgotten Americans are what the country desperately needs and definitely deserves.
Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.