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Posted on Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 7:55 a.m.

Politicians must aim higher than personal glory

By Robert Faber

Editor's note: Robert Faber writes occasional columns for about aging, politics and other issues.

Now that we’ve grown older and can see things in the light of real life experiences, we seniors understand that the reality of politics is nothing like they taught us in school, so perhaps we should change some of the rules of the game.

And it is a game, so perhaps the list of candidates for the next election should include some of the giants in games, like LeBron James of basketball, or Peyton Manning of football, or Tiger Woods of golf. Those guys may know nothing about government or economics, but they look great, are comfortable with the press, are widely known and well liked, and have annual incomes in the millions -- all the attributes necessary for seeking a place in Washington. Their athletic skills may have no application in running the country, but that is an increasingly fringe requirement for election to high office.

And that is the essence of our growing national tragedy. Our choice for leadership has come to rely much more extensively on posturing on television and proclaiming wisdom with sound-bite cliches.

And that is not what our government is or who we are. At our country’s inception, the Constitution swore to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ..... promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty” -- a pledge unique in the history of nations. Unfortunately, that noble goal is ill served by aggressive political attacks designed solely to denigrate the opposition. Showmanship to win elections is a reasonable and acceptable part of the game, but when offered in lieu of productive discussion diminishes the higher principles of governance, ultimately damaging the value and integrity of the system.


Designated by the Constitution as the first branch of government, the Congress is known as "the world's greatest deliberative body," a description unfortunately at odds with its new reality.

Throughout our history we have been blessed with a variety of strong, wise and committed legislative leaders who were able to calm the passions of disagreement and to work with their opposition. That group is now in increasingly short supply. The honor of legislative service that had once been its own reward has since adjusted to the pleasures of position and the perks of power.

Designated by the Constitution as the first branch of government, the Congress is known as "the world's greatest deliberative body," a description unfortunately at odds with its new reality. According to Norman Ornstein in "The Broken Branch," it has assumed the new label of "Tuesday-to-Thursday Club," its members “straggling in late on Tuesday then get[ting] out of town as early on Thursday as possible," leaving no time for the productive discussions that come from personal relationships with members of the opposition. Replacing those discussions are the vitriolic attacks taking place on the floor of Congress.

Whatever distance now separates us from the intent of our Constitution, its principles remain a treasured part of our heritage and the presumed definition of our values. And if that noble heritage is really a myth, it is our myth, venerated by our people and now an essential part of who we like to believe we are. The Constitution's homage to the "the welfare of the People" is disappearing from our political horizon, victim of the exigencies of "practical politics." Submission to the dictates of Party, determined by the demands of financial or ideological backers may win elections, but they profane our principles, leaving a leadership more beholden to its patrons than to its people.

The problem is clear -- the solution much less so. Ornstein attributes much of the fault to the collapse of Congressional responsibility, its loss of independence as the oversight branch of government. He sees "a legislative process that has lost the transparency, accountability, and deliberation that are at the core of the American system."

However accurate his diagnosis, there must be a higher standard of integrity for those to whom we entrust the mechanics and future of our nation. The sacred ideals and traditions by which our people and our nation are defined are colliding with the reality of power politics and political greed. Satisfying the needs of the many over the preferences of a privileged and powerful few has been our national ideal, but that condition cannot exist in today’s environment.

The promises written in our Constitution and the plea articulated on our Statue of Liberty to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” define our nation’s character and its goals. And even if we too often fall short, to our credit we have retained and honored the spirit of those aspirations. Clearly the needy and afflicted international communities cannot be our nation's primary obligation, but our loss as an inspiration for those oppressed populations is a troubling reflection of how we are faring at home with our own people and their dreams.

We seniors have spent the better part of a century pursuing the narrow agenda of improving life for ourselves and our progeny. It is time for our candidates to drop their “TV game show” electioneering and aim higher than the personal glories of the moment. The principles of the Constitution started our nation on its journey -- they should now be the goal and the measurement of our performance.

Bob Faber has been a resident of Ann Arbor since 1954. He and his wife, Eunice, owned a fabric store and later a travel agency. He served a couple of terms on the Ann Arbor City Council. He may be reached at


Richard Wickboldt

Sat, Jan 21, 2012 : 10:33 p.m.

The birth of this nation with its revolution, leadership of our founding fathers who gave us the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and a government of three entities; gave us true freedom to set our destiny and life without oppression. This gift was encapsulated with the right to vote!.. and keep voting year after year. it is clear something has gone of course. Something is wrong with how our nation is being governed from the right or left. The federal legislature only governs for wealthy people, corporations and foreign entities. The Supreme Court doesn't rule for the people but corporations. The Presidency tires to govern the states instead of protecting the nation. None of the three can seem to keep the others in check. Why? The answer, the fix, is staring you in the mirror each day. Yes you! The voter who elects those in government. We the voters who keep re-electing the same legislatures (many who are wealthy) whom make all the laws and regulations to allow the crony capitalism. We the voters who keep re-electing the same legislatures who aren't strong enough to prevent the crony capitalism. The actual root cause is you and I. The voters. Let's open our eyes before another revolution is required.

Lac Court Orilles

Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.

I challenge any constituent who isn't a major campaign contributor to obtain any opportunity to have a productive face-to-face discussion with Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. See if it happens!


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 5:10 p.m.

Splendid and lofty words about the constitution and its intent to cover all in our society. Years ago my father used to proclaim something is wrong about needing a million dollars to get a man elected to make 40,000 dollars a year. Maybe an over simplification but so true to today's politics. My point , money still talks the loudest and those flood gates were opened by the Supreme Court, the very institution put in place to protect the poorest of our nation. The corporations control the elected. Maybe it would be more fitting to say, of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations .


Thu, Feb 16, 2012 : 5:02 p.m.

I agree 100%. Don't you think it's odd (and disturbing) that pointing out the control money has on OUR political representatives gets so little attention?


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.

Thank you Mr. Faber for your well worded article. We still have 11 mos. to election time, and frankly I am totally disgusted with all of the negative hoopla. Until we get back to responsible, respectful and accountable members of congress and presidents, we will continue on a downward spiral. Politicians used to serve their country; now they go to Washington and become millionaires and oft times serve themselves. Not all, but many, and those who really wish to do a great job for those they represent, usually leave because they try to do what is right and serve their districts. As far as Pres. Obama is concerned, I would suggest that he stop campaigning and return to office and attend to business in that there appears to be a good deal to be addressed. And, I certainly hope that my tax paying dollars are not being used for all of his campaign travels or for his salary while on the road doing so.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 1:15 p.m.

The big problem with Congress in my opinion is the growing sophistication of the gerrymandering. To win, a politician used to have to represent the will of a majority of the average people. Now, all they have to do is win their party primary and they are assured election. They are elected each time by the far right wing of their party in a Republican district or the far left voters is a Democratic district. Since neither side has to appeal to the center, they don't even try anymore. Congress consists now mostly of far right wing and far left wing ideologues who can't be beat unless they suffer from extreme moral turpitude or far advanced decrepitude. Not even severe memory loss stops some from being reelected though...


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 4:58 p.m.

At age 67, I've come to see things much the way Mr. Faber does. But the space allowed in one column cannot encompass the full scope of our national predicament. "All large political doctrines are rich in difficult problems -- problems that are quite above the average citizen's reach. And that is not strange, since they are also above the reach of the ablest minds in the country; after all the fuss and all the talk, not one of those doctrines has been conclusively proven to be the right one and the best." – Mark Twain - It's been about 120 years since Twain wrote that, and as we all know - nothing has changed in that regard. It's a Devil's choice to choose between Republicans and Democrats. Both are composed of factions who have been seduced to believe they can take over and thereby gain power in government. We see this has already happened to the Republican Party, wherein the Libertarians vie with Christian moralists and "patriotic" militarists who're all being manipulated by the real bosses: corporatists. The Dems aren't much better - but at least they're forced to "sometimes" follow up on their claimed concern for the general population (aka, "the Common Man"). Twain also remarked on the terrible accusations each party directs at the other. He said about that: They are both right. Bottom line: until we all start remembering that it's the total American population which deserves our greatest attention - we will continue to self-factioinalize and self-destruct this nation. Faber is right: self concern is necessary but THat is ULTIMATELY is expressed in concern for and service to the communities and nation in which we all live.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 5:02 p.m.

I botched the last line: Faber is right, self-concern is necessary but THAT is ULTIMATELY expressed in concern for and service to the communities and nation in which we all live.

hut hut

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 3:42 p.m.

Words of wisdom. Is Mayor Hieftje listening?


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

" It is time for our candidates to drop their "TV game show" electioneering and aim higher than the personal glories of the moment." Mr. Obama is your worst offender Bob, his two favorite words are " I " and "me" ! "The Constitution's homage to the "the welfare of the People" is disappearing from our political horizon, victim of the exigencies of "practical politics." You always try and distort the words " promote the general welfare" Bob to mean your version of welfare ! Keep in mind , when the constitution was written and adopted as law of the land, there was no welfare, unemployment pay, medicare, medicaid, WIC, social security or any other social support programs. Good Day


Mon, Jan 16, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.

Hut hut - back to the good ole days when a person's word was good, people were responsible, accountable, respectful. Yes, we have come a long ways regarding the rights of various groups, but we have lost attributes as stated in my first sentence.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 5:02 p.m.

@ rod: "can't just make things up"?? Of course you can in the current climate of what passes for political "discourse" ( especially, but not exclusively, among teapartiers )...... and.especially too with the perverse fact and decency devoid notions of 'free speech' that are out there .

Rod Johnson

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 4:42 p.m.

@snoopdog: Classic confirmation bias. You want that claim about Obama to be true, so you only look for the evidence that it's true. The problem is, it's not true. See <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> and many more studies. Obama uses first person pronouns ate a rate comparable with, and actually a little bit less than, his two predecessors. It's fine if you don't like the guy, but you can't just make stuff up.


Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 4:30 p.m.

Actually Newt's referring to himself in the 3rd person trumps Obama on his worst day as to runaway egotism. and any candidate who believes they are god's mouthpiece ( which perry and bachmann and santorum explicitly do!) again beats obama on the hubris front.. (.and also, if they are right, suggest that god is both a bigot and none too bright).

hut hut

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

Back to the good old days of slavery, child labor, women unable to vote, and the pious Protestant work ethic where the reason you are poor is because your faith isn't as strong as the wealthy believers. We've come a long way from those days and what your suggesting is that we go back there. In fact we are already there as the division between the HAVES and the HAVE NOTS deepens by the day. Weren't the good old days great? What happened to E Pluribus Unum or being your Brothers Keeper?

Albert Howard

Sun, Jan 15, 2012 : 1:27 p.m.

Amen, Mr. Faber