Skip to Content

Everyday Citizen

News, Opinions, & Things That Matter

The Prose of Citizenship

by August 20, 2009 blog

Here are some scenes from almost a year ago, remember?

It was, for so many of us, a euphoric period. America entered into an extended period of self congratulatory reveling; with a crumbling economy, two wars abroad from which our country was becoming increasingly disconnected yet our nation’s capacity to transcend some of the worst of its past and elected the U.S.’s first African-American president.

However, I will never forget former New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s wise council regarding electoral politics: “We campaign in poetry; we govern in prose.” That’s not just good for politicians to remember, its good for their constituents as well. Especially when it comes to the legislative process. Congress is divided between liberals, blue dog Democrats and recalcitrant Republicans.

In the balance is health insurance reform.

And Obama supporters complain that doesn’t seem to be leading the charge to fulfill his own campaign promises. I know, I get frustrated too! I’m waiting for him to remember that he’s President of the United States AND THE LEADER of the winning political party!

But Cuomo’s quote reminds me of something: what we’re seeing is the prose of governance.

Its not pretty; its often frustrating and sometimes flat out aggravating, if not embarrassing. Rail against birthers, tea baggers and organized disruptions all you want, actually in a democracy, they’re pretty much who they have always been. I think it wastes an opportunity for a serious, rational and important debate on how we’re going to reconstruct this country’s economy after we drove it to the edge of the proverbial cliff.

But I also know that there has never been a time when there hasn’t been misinformation, disinformation and flat out lies when it comes to public policy benefiting those classified as ‘have-nots‘ (actually, health insurance reform helps the middle class but that’s another side of the debate subsumed by a lot of senseless rhetoric).

What are the election revelers from November ’08 supposed to do during the ‘prose-period’ between elections?

Educate yourself on the health care issue; sift through the political rhetoric and talking points and find the facts. Find the position you believe in and make your voice heard, by email, phone calls, texts, tweets, blogs and faxes and whatever else is out there.

It’s not enough to be a voter – that’s great; now is really the time to exercise citizenship!

I heard a story about FDR, to whom Obama is often compared. Eleanor Roosevelt and Walter White, a former President of the NAACP, went to see the President. They wanted him to put the weight of the office behind an anti-lynching law. Roosevelt didn’t want to do it, not because he believed in lynching, but because he needed the southern vote to maintain support for the war. Eleanor Roosevelt and White continued to press him, making cogent argument after cogent argument.

Finally, Roosevelt stopped them. He waved his hand and said,

“You’re right. Everything you say is absolutely right. Now go out and organize and make me do it!”

The prose of governance…

Those of us who really want health insurance reform (and anything else for that matter), need to understand that we are now up against what it really means to have the person for whom we’ve voted in office.

We have the challenge of working against competing agenda’s in order for ours to prevail. Political courage for an elected official is not the results of the votes he or she has gotten – its the votes that he or she can get. The echoes of last year’s election mean nothing now, its about reminding politicians who will vote in the next one.

It’s time to let that voice be heard. Now is time for the crowds, the independents, the young, new voters to show up by the thousands and show up for what you want; what you believe in.

This pictures are an absolutely great memory. But the memories are just not enough right now. The poetry of the 2008 Presidential election is over.