Lessons from Senator Voinovich

I had the opportunity to have lunch with Senator George Voinovich when he visited Athens this semester. The Senator also came to my interest groups class to talk about his experiences as a public servant, so this gave me a significant insight into the mind of a veteran of the public sector. I hate to harp on civic engagement again, but it really stood out in my talks with the Senator. The three points that related to civic engagement in our talks were social capital, compromise and herd mentality, and political business.

Social Capital is making sure that peoples’ voices and frustrations are heard by public officials. The Senator was adamant about going to the people when dealing with any political issue. He believes that a lack of social capital today is one of the main causes for lack of trust in our government and why we have divided government today. This is really one of the plus sides of being a faculty or student in the Voinovich School. We as a school have a mentality that we must engage the community on any project we work on. It was one of the things the Senator constantly praised the school for because there are so few institutions that actually use Community Based Participation in their day to day activities. The lesson on social capital is that in order for our country to move forward, we must rebuild the trust that has been lost in the everyday citizen.

Compromise and herd mentality were two points brought up by the Senator on why our government cannot accomplish very much these days. On compromise, the Senator brought up that nobody is willing to ever compromise on issues. He went on to add that very few are willing to do the right thing for our country. It seems that today, everybody has some sort of image they have to uphold instead of doing what is best for our nation… I will talk about this more in a second. The herd mentality goes along the lines that nobody wants to stand up for what they truly believe in because they are afraid of what their peers are going to say. Yes according the Senator, even United States Senators deal with the peer pressure that plagues teenagers’ lives. How can Democracy really flourish if our leaders cannot come to the table and compromise or even stand up for what they believe in even if it’s against their party?

Political business was not a phrase used by the Senator, but a concept that I thought of to explain my last point. The Senator brought up the fact that interest groups, like the Sierra Club, have a certain niche or business plan that makes their existence possible. That is why these polarized groups are never willing to compromise, because if they do their customers or constituents will get upset and stop supporting their group. This is the same concept of why the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world exist; they are filling a niche in the political spectrum that will make them a profit.

These were my takeaways from my talks with the former Senator, George Voinovich. As future or current public servants, we must really remember why we choose the career path we did. It was to actually help some people in this world. In order to help those people, we at times will have to compromise, but also stand up for what is right. It is the principles our democracy is built on, political discourse.

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