‘Are you the One?’ has been the question of millions of Jewish parents through the centuries, asking if their newborn child might be the Messiah…the one who would lead humanity into peace. As parents and grandparents and neighbors looked into the eyes of each innocent newborn, they wondered and prayed and hoped…and believed. One day…according to Christian belief…a child was born to fulfill this expectation…and we celebrated his birth this month. This isn’t just the hope for a military or religious leader…it was the hope for a genuine leader who would listen to the yearnings of the people for justice, inclusion and long-term stability. Many centuries later, we who seek peace are still asking the question of our newborn babies: ‘Are you the One?’… or more importantly, ‘Are you one of the Ones?’
I’m not trying to equate religion and politics…but they do have some shared goals, and they do at times practice wishful thinking. Today conditions are worsening for hundreds of thousands more people, and these people are talking more and more about what must change in our political landscape for democracy to work in an adequate or sustainable way. I find myself wondering and praying and hoping and believing today for a new style of leadership to emerge…leadership that puts national service as higher priority than personal gain. I’m focused on those in politics today who can lead us into an era of public trust.
I know many hoped President Obama might be a key person in this shift in politics, and he was actually labeled ‘The One’ during the 2008 campaign. Today, however, I have my doubts that he is even one among many persons who are potentially prepared to bring any deep change to our political climate. While his term is not yet 25% done, his capacity to affect significant change in the way politics is waged has already been significantly compromised. Certainly, the President could turn the corner in his political methods anytime, but his course seems to be pretty well set…practical, low-risk politics.
Prior to Mr. Obama’s identification as ‘The One’, Senator John McCain gave many people some hope. His strident legislative activism for dramatic campaign finance reform was both bold and risky. His willingness to work in a bi-partisan way was creative and practical. His criticism of his own party when he thought it was warranted was refreshing. His unwillingness to pad legislation with ‘earmarks’ that would be there purely to benefit him in his reelection was a mark of courage. But alas, Mr. McCain has retreated to the political safe haven of purely partisan alliances and predictable, low-risk policy positions. Anymore, it appears he too has found the cost of political reform to be too high.
Unfortunately, our news media and its attached clutch of pundits have read our collective minds and have created a popular expectation for ‘The One’ that is seriously off target. The American public continues to look for someone who would single-handedly solve all of our tough problems in just a matter of months…a ruined economy, two unsustainable wars, a health care system dominated by powerful monopolies, etc. It appears that we want change only if it can be done easily and quickly. But even this misguided expectation has its good points. The fact that an increasing number of people seem to be ready for leaders who will finally take a stand for political reform is a positive sign for our nation. It means that many of us are hungry for a more participatory system of government rather than the corporate-dominated structure we have in place today. By this fact, I am encouraged.
‘Are you one of the Ones?’ I think we’re really looking for Republicans or Democrats or Independents who can get elected and then take an ethical stand for genuine transparency in civic life and citizen representation…no matter the cost. ‘Are you one of the Ones?’…who will reach out to colleagues without regard to party affiliation to create truly non-partisan legislative efforts that serve the needs of all people rather than just a powerful lobby? ‘Are you one of the Ones?’…being a self-confident individual who can be a single-term politician if that’s the will of the people…no matter what corporate donors or power brokers might say? I’m hoping for a growing number of bold and decisive leaders to emerge from the grey mist of political life, so we can once again believe in our representative form of government. I’m asking this specific question…’Are you one of the Ones?’…because I believe it’ll probably take hundreds of politicians to stand firm for their convictions before the grip of corporate control in political decisions. I think it’s time to start asking our elected officials this direct question.
Here are a few questions for those who want to encourage deliberation in public policy: Are we willing to discuss and support and envision public leadership that sets aside lucrative corporate donations and lobbyist favors and threats as they respond to the needs of the public? What kind of leadership do we want? What characteristics are most important as we decide who we will support for public office? How should political campaigns be funded? How can we return more local accountability to our critical political decisions? It seems we’re really good at complaining about our leaders and at expecting some of them to come up with all the answers, but we’re not very good right now at researching and discovering what kind of leadership we need for our democracy to survive. I believe we need to talk openly about leadership at all levels of public service, so we can be pro-active in understanding and developing a more effective balance in the priorities of our elected officials.