Business Casual: Time To Play Nice

Remember the drill sergeant-inspired grade-school teacher who would come charging into an unruly classroom and punish everybody? She – more often she than he in my experience – didn’t have time to sort out the instigators from the unwilling participants or the just-minding-my-own-business observers. Everybody got detention.

I have to say I’m feeling more and more like that schoolteacher, as a new legislative session is beginning in Georgia and a new Congress is convening in Washington. I don’t much care who started what and who finished it or who fired the first volley and who simply responded. I’m tired of last fall’s campaign noise and nastiness and bored equally by post-election gloating from the winners and whining from the losers.

I want everybody to sit down, be quiet and get on with it. And I don’t believe I’m alone.

A lot of people voted last November without any real enthusiasm. Even the most committed partisans were turned off by the relentless campaign ads that made watching TV a migraine headache in waiting and the intelligence-insulting robo-calls that interrupted way too many dinner hours. By the final weeks, I was even tired of hearing from candidates I once liked or intended to vote for.

After the votes were counted, the crowing and chest-thumping from the winning side was as tiresome as the wailing and breast-beating from the others. And the endless interpreting and re-interpreting of what it all meant got old in a hurry.

The clearest lesson seems to be that voters want responsive, responsible government and don’t have a lot of patience. We know what the problems are – we’re looking for solutions.

Personally, I’m tired of politicking and ready for some governing. I could do with less rhetoric and more discussion. I wouldn’t mind fewer partisan attacks and more honest attempts at reconciliation. Less posturing and more achieving. More action and less blather.

The state capitol isn’t a playground – although there have been occasions in the not-so-distant past when it sure seemed like one.

Last year’s post-Richardson session was encouragingly civil and purposeful; but the tone of the recent campaign season and the post-election fanfare calls into question whether elected officials can get back to the serious business that requires their attention: budget, education, water, transportation, ethics.

I know it’s easier to bash Nancy Pelosi – or, for that matter, John Boehner. But this is Georgia, not Washington, and there is work here to be done.

While I’m in schoolmarm mode, I have a homework assignment I’d love to hand out to all lawmakers. It’s an essay question, actually: In 50 words or less, why did you run for office?

Was it because you wanted to feel important or get invited to parties? Did you want to make speeches or see yourself on TV or spend more time in Atlanta?

Or did you actually have an idea that you’d like to do something to improve your state and help the citizens of Georgia live a better and more productive life?

I believe there are far more well-intentioned lawmakers than slackers out there. I think most of them start out with high ideals and noble purposes, but some get sidetracked and lose their way. I suspect lawmaking can be tough and frustrating.

At times it must be easier to blast people on the other side of an issue than to spend a little time and effort trying to find points of agreement. But that doesn’t really get us anywhere. And there are places we need to get.

It’s too easy for elected officials to get isolated and insulated, to surround themselves with people who tell them what they want to hear, especially during a campaign when the focus is solely on the election.

Some voters worry that too many lawmakers don’t seem to have much of a grasp of the issues – they cherry-pick the most superficial facts to make their case, trying to oversimplify a complicated issue like the economy or immigration or access to healthcare. It would be nice to think that campaign-ad tactic won’t characterize their approach during the session.

Still, despite their frustration and doubts, most Georgians I know are pulling for their lawmakers and wishing them well. Let’s hope it works.

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