Like many, I have been frustrated by the past month of bickering amongst our elected leaders. Frustrated by their unwillingness to compromise, to engage each other in a meaningful dialogue, to recognize the repercussions that would follow failure. Frustrated that economic policy has been held hostage by individuals who know nothing about economics. Frustrated by an unwillingness to lead.
The solution seemed, to me, so simple. A dialogue, a compromise. An affirmation that we have a responsibility to each other.
Instead, a dialogue became a series of walk-outs and shouting matches and Sunday Morning talk show appearances. Compromise transformed into a terrifying disintegration of character, not a valid tool of political growth. Responsibility was to a party, not the American people.
It reminded me of what Jon Stewart talked about at the Rally to Restore Sanity.
Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done –not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.
Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often something they do not want to do! But they do it. Impossible things, every day, that are only made possible through the little, reasonable compromises we all make.
Tonight, finally, a modicum of compromise was held. And a weak bill was passed. It is frustrating and disheartening. In fact, Jon Stewart highlighted how frustrating the debt ceiling agreement ended up being on his show Monday.
But then, from my livestream of C-SPAN (nerd that I am), I heard an unexpected sound of applause and uncharacteristic cheers from the House floor.
Gabrielle Giffords had returned to vote.
Congresswoman Giffords, after her vote, stated, “I have closely followed the debate over our debt ceiling and have been deeply disappointed at what’s going on in Washington… I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics. I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy.”
Representative Giffords has exhibited courage and strength in the past seven months since the January attack – facing significant adversity, horrific violence, deep personal and professional loss, debilitating physical struggle, and public scrutiny of a painful process of recovery. But that private calamity could not overtake her sense of duty and responsibility to ensure that her commitment to her constituents was upheld.
She talked about her return to public service tonight as an honor. That is a welcome inspiration in a time of cynicism. I hope it also serves as a reminder to her colleagues in Congress.
A reminder that there is a responsibility to do what is best for the real, tangible people, not for an abstract platform. That a defeat, disheartening as it may be, is a temporary reminder of one’s fallibility and opportunity for growth. A reminder that courage and strength shine in the most ordinary of struggles and the willingness to accept the responsibility to do what is right. That a compromise is not an attack on personal character, but a necessary tool of American governance. And that one day, our actions in times of adversity will define how we are remembered.
But most of all, I hope Representative Giffords’ courage reminds Congress that the power is a privilege, not a right.