“The price of greatness is responsibility.” —Winston Churchill
Watching a TV interview with one of the most accomplished mowers of grass on the planet, I was blown away by the way he talked about his job. Dave Mellor has been groundskeeper at Boston's Fenway Park for more than a decade. By most accounts, he was the first to mow patterns in the grass at a major league baseball stadium. Fenway turned 100 years old in April, and Mellor talked about the honor he felt working for a great institution.
For him, creating beautiful grounds at a legendary baseball stadium is far more than a job—it's a public service. As he described his deep feeling for the place he worked, I realized how completely the honor and respect for great institutions has disappeared in Washington.
As campaigns rev up, members of Congress and the president demean their offices nearly every day with loose talk, trivial charges and a dramatic indifference to their obligations and responsibilities. In fact, demeaning the office of the president is so routine, those who have been running against him did not call the man in the White House President Obama. He is simply “Obama.” Did this pernicious disrespect for the highest office in the land begin when Rep. Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican, yelled, “You lie!” at the president during his 2009 health care address to Congress? Hardly.
But what of the president himself appearing on late-night TV to laugh it up with raunchy talk show host Jimmy Fallon? Has the office of the president turned into just another bit of show biz? Perhaps we should ask Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, who did much the same thing.
Our elected office holders talk about their commitment to the voters, their service to the people and their dedication to the country. But their intractable behavior betrays these words. Each day they demonstrate that they believe they are responsible for only the narrowest, most partisan interests in the land. Each day they tell us through their inaction that a crippling budget impasse, decaying Social Security and Medicare, and an unworkable tax structure are not their responsibility to fix. They show no respect for us and no sense of steward- ship of the country.
I am more hopeful for the generations that are just beginning to move into politics. I am proud of my own children for their sense of responsibility and desire to be of service. They tell me, for example, that it is not easy to get into the Peace Corps and many other public service programs these days because so many want to do their part. They want jobs with meaning, not just fat paychecks or the chance to make headlines. They want to make this country and other places better. And they are stepping up to do just that.
In Washington we see no evidence that our elected representatives respect what have been, and can be again, great institutions. There is no one showing through their actions that public service is an honor, and that being elected confers a sacred responsibility on those fortunate enough to hold office. These men and women have forgotten that. They dishonor the great men who founded this country, among them Thomas Jefferson, who said: “My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy!”