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May 1, 2007

NO SIDELINES IN POLITICS

“Politics are such a torment that I would advise everyone I love not to mix with them.”
—Thomas Jefferson

“Politics ought to be the part-time profession of every citizen who would protect the rights and privileges of free people and who would preserve what is good and fruitful in our national heritage.”
—Dwight D. Eisenhower

These quotations—one of them more than two centuries old—summarize the sentiments that many people now have about our national political processes.

There is no question that politicians today often seem to be wholly self-serving. The relentless pursuit of money, the posturing, the partisanship and the predictable lack of statesmanship that characterize national politics are so commonplace and pervasive that they repel many—or perhaps most—workaday citizens of our North American democracies. With the exception of those who indulge for sport in the political subcultures, very few people could love modern politics, be they the U.S. style or the Canadian parliamentary system.

I am reminded of this because the U.S. presidential campaign of 2008 is clearly under way, coloring as it does the actions of countless politicians for whom elections are little more than another opportunity to pander to wealthy and influential people and groups. A cynical view? Certainly, but one shaped by five years of effort to secure a better deal from our governments on behalf of our North American manufacturing customer base.

Too often in the world of public policy, you must pay to play, and those that can muster the largest contributions are those that often win the day.

That might be acceptable, at least to groups and people with money to spend, if politicians were in fact accountable for their actions. But rarely do we insist that they take principled positions and stick with them. Rarely do we check back to determine whether campaign promises have been kept. Instead, most of us simply give up on the process and let today’s politicians shade the truth, misrepresent their positions and otherwise obscure what, if anything, they’ve done in Washington.

We also do not do enough to defuse the rancor and partisanship that emanate from our political centers. There was a time when Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill could agree to disagree, yet remain united and personally cordial by the need to do well for the country. “The Speaker says that here in Washington, we’re all friends after six o’clock,” Reagan once quipped. And it was true. In today’s polarized environment, that kind of friendly rivalry is often next to impossible.

This leads me to the quote from Dwight Eisenhower. He wisely understood that our nation functions properly only when every citizen plays a role. That’s why I call on you to pay close attention to the presidential campaigns. Speak up when candidates clearly don’t understand the needs of manufacturing. Hold them accountable for policy positions that would further erode our manufacturing base, and thus our security and prosperity. Insist that posturing be replaced with public policy positions that are rational, thoughtful and beneficial to our future.

We do get the governments that we deserve. This time around, let’s make sure, by our activism and determination, we hold the politicians’ feet to the fire. We deserve the best.