Lose the labels

My personal resolution for this year will be to stop putting political labels on people. It'll be a great resolution if I can stick to it, and I recommend everyone else do the same. That goes for the news media, especially – we all need to stop using labels like Democrat and Republican and conservative or progressive or radical or liberal as a verbal shortcut, as a sloppy attempt to define what one person's beliefs might be.
This show of restraint should apply especially to everyone elected to a public office. They themselves should not refer to their party affiliation, and neither should we. The press should only do so if it's relevant to a story being told, not just do it routinely. Those little (D) and (R) icons by every representative's name on your screens and in print are not necessary and often misleading.
Campaigning as a party member can help politicians win elections and may even be necessary in most parts of the country, but from the first moment that every electoral winner is sworn into office, their personal and political beliefs no longer matter. The Constitution requires them to represent the general population within a specific area, not any kind of political philosophy.
A Congressional representative is expected to make an effort to hear the views of every citizen in their district, to respect those opinions, to try to figure out what the majority view might be and vote accordingly. Period. It's just a two-year job, after all, so it needs to be kept simple. There's no time for a learning curve.
When they aren't in Washington, representatives should hold town hall meetings across their districts daily, listening to the concerns and ideas of their constituents. Listen and learn – it's the only way they can do the full-time job they were hired to do.
Senators must represent in a different way. As one of just two people who speak and vote on the Senate floor on behalf of all their state residents, a senator ends up making more personal decisions. You can't get an accurate feel for what the majority of 10-20 million people might feel about any issue unless you have months gather that data.
You also need to consider regional and national issues and the historical context of how all those things fit together, too. That's why senators are given six years on that job – because it has a steep learning curve and requires some unique skills.
In the case of the presidency, the entire country is the constituency so a true survey of opinion is impossible. That's not a problem, however, as the president was never meant to be a powerful leader in the way that other countries had been accustomed to for centuries. Many of the old ways were left behind after the American Revolution, although a few returned when the Industrial Revolution swept through society more than a century ago. Some are still very much alive today – belief in a "Strong Leader" is one of those.
American presidents are required to run the enterprise of government, represent the US internationally and command the military. A political philosophy is not required to do that job well. In fact, it almost guarantees poor results.
A president must lead by example, not by decree, in order to convince the populace to follow. It's a tremendously difficult and complex job with huge levels of stress. Four years in the White House is about all one person can handle unless they have an abundance of energy. They all want four more, however. Only one – Lyndon Johnson – ever walked away from the job while still eligible for it.
And finally, here's this year's quote to remember:
"Chase after the truth like all hell and you'll free yourself even if you never touch its coattails."  – Clarence Darrow


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