I read a great op-ed in this Sunday's Washington Post relaying a Georgetown professor's observations from talking to his students about torture. One particular line from Daniel Byman stuck out:
"I hope my students learn to be cautious about public opinion, especially when it appears permissive."
I don't intend to write anything else about torture (at this time), but I did want to comment on this idea of a permissive electorate. How often do you hear the word "mandate" or "the people have spoken" when directing the action of an elected official? This is the essence of political capital. "The polls say X." "Voters want X."
But what Professor Byman is saying is that it is in these circumstances that our leaders should be the most cautious. I've often said that when it comes to public affairs if you don't have to fight for it, its not worth doing. Byman remarks on a much different circumstance - action for which the leader is merely a conduit for public will.
The antidote for the political cynicism that permeates every level of government is not populism. It's courage. I could name dozens of politicians who run with the current and say what people want to hear, but the leaders that I admire are those who talk and act in ways that may be unpopular, but are made popular by the conviction of will by which they are conveyed.
Leaders lead, yet the leadership part of public office is often missing. In fact, I would suggest that it is often resented. "You are my employee. Do what I tell you to do." And there is some comfort there. It is the unstated rule of democracy that we have a bias towards prohibiting people in power from using that power. Unless they persuade us. And that's leadership.
Instead, we have what Byman describes. Public opinion drives decision-makers as opposed to decision-makers driving public opinion. In theory, this may be ok, but in practice it is ugly. There is no consistency in action and accountability is hard to stick. Listen to what we hear about things like torture - "It was a bad time for America and we did what we thought we had to do." Sort of. You did what you thought the people wanted you to do.
You should have been cautious about public opinion, especially when it appeared permissive.
I posted about Death with Dignity a week or so ago. Here is a good article about end of life care in the Washington Post.
Amanda Yeager writes that over 100 people gathered for the Black Lives Matter vigil on Friday night, including Council-member Calvin Ball and retired Delegate Liz Bobo.
Dan Rodricks separates myth from fact when it comes to distributing chicken manure on fields in Eastern Maryland. It may sound romantic to use suburbanites (i.e., the circle of life on a farm), but such romanticism overlooks the waste-load of a modern day chicken farm and the simple fact that it is killing the livelihoods of another romanticized industry - fisherman.
Doug Donovan with The Sun writes about nonprofits investing in offshore accounts to avoid taxation on unrelated business income. After reading this piece, I was more concerned about the fact that we tax unrelated business income for nonprofits than whatever they may do to avoid that taxation. The things we do to corner tax scofflaws are truly offensive.
Featured Blog Post of the Day: Jason Booms is picking up the pace on his writing and covered Trash Free Maryland on Friday. As always, a must read.
That's all for today. Have a great Monday doing what you love!