Tuesday, November 2, 2010

An Open Letter

November 2, 2010

An Open Letter to the Newly-elected Congress

Dear Republicans:

Congratulations. You got most of what you wanted—numerical control of the House and substantial gains in the Senate. Savor the victory for a moment, but now comes the hard part. The American people have listened to your campaign ads and speeches for the past few months. Now we would like you to listen for a moment.

Now that you are in office, we are looking for results. Not more talk. Not excuses about an “obstructionist President” or the mess that you had handed to you. You, President Obama, and your Democratic colleagues must figure out ways to work with each other. We will have absolutely no patience if you and they merely choose to stand on opposite sides of the political aisle and shout “NO” at each other. At the very least, find some common ground that advances the good of the American people and start there. Regardless of whose party the idea came from. You must remember that the Democrats are not the enemy. And the Democrats must remember that the Republicans are not the enemy. The enemy is the circumstances and decisions—made by those from both parties—that have sapped America of our hope, civility, and economic vitality. If you and the President and the Democrats cannot find enough common ground to govern for the benefit of the American people, then maybe none of you belong in Washington.

We need you to get your work done—the work of representing the best interests of the American people. OUR interests, not your own. The position that you have been elected to (or re-elected to) is a public trust—power to be exercised for the common good. Your temporary power is not for your benefit, or to defeat the other party, but it is power that we have entrusted to you to exercise, within the constraints of the Constitution, for the highest and best good of the nation as a whole.

We all realize that we are in the midst of difficult and challenging times. Many of us have lost hope that this country will ever be great again. There is an undercurrent of feeling that yesterday’s election was nothing more than re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. What do you believe? Do you believe that American greatness is not merely a vestige of history, but that such greatness can be rediscovered for my children and grandchildren?

We Americans are a resilient people. We are willing to deal with difficulty and hardship. But we need someone in Washington to tell us what is real and what we need to hear—not just what your constituents want to hear. Be honest about how bad things may be, so that we can begin to build up from the bottom. And if the best economic minds in our country say that we have not yet hit bottom, then tell us that as well. Tell us that we will need to figure out new ways to take care of each other—because the government cannot be the backstop for everything that someone may think that they need. Remind us that we Americans can do amazing things when we get beyond our own self-interest and come alongside our neighbors to share the load.

Tell us that we need to tighten our belts and make sacrifices if that is what we need to hear. But don’t you dare tell us to tighten our belts if you are not willing to do the same. If that happens, we will have no mercy for you at the next election. If our households need to cut back, so does the White House—and the Congress. If we need to make do with less, then you had better do the same. (And by the way, a smaller-than-projected increase does not count as less spending.)

A strong moral fiber to our society is critical to regaining any semblance of American greatness. When America has risen to the challenge in the past, there has been a strong moral component. One of our other strengths as a nation is our cultural and religious diversity. Yet respecting our national diversity does not mean that we must sacrifice a common sense of morals. The answer to divergent co-existence is not to shut off moral discussion and conversations about right and wrong, but instead to foster those discussions with the aim of identifying the common moral bases upon which we can build a new and hopeful future.

Bottom line, we need you to tell us what is real—even if the news is bad. And then we need you to work with each other and listen to us for ideas about how to climb back to a place of American greatness. There are just over 500 of you and nearly 300 million of the rest of us. It may be hard for you to believe, but we may have some better ideas than you do—so please ask, and listen.

Finally, for once, we need all of you to be Americans first, and Republicans or Democrats a distant second.

Best regards,
Kenneth Prine
American Citizen (and lifelong Republican)
Monticello, Minnesota

P.S. Dear Democrats: Please do not believe for a moment that yesterday’s election results are a statement of approval for the Republicans’ perceived role as just saying “No” to everything. If you take that approach, and simply work to create gridlock, that approach will not be met with electoral favor in 2012.