Sayin’ a mouth­ful

Frank talk is needed be­fore lead­ers leave of­fice

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

“Take this job and shove it. I ain’t workin’ here no more.” — Johnny Pay­check

It’s not un­usual for news­pa­per types from time to time to hear a par­tic­u­lar kind of plea from a pub­lic of­fi­cial — su­per­in­ten­dents or school board pres­i­dents, may­ors or city coun­cil mem­bers, and the like — who would rather avoid hav­ing a re­porter at a meet­ing.

It’s mostly at so-called strate­gic plan­ning ses­sions, those all-day meet­ings with lunch brought in from a lo­cal eatery so th­ese lead­ers can re­view re­cent is­sues, brain­storm ideas for the fu­ture, toss around con­cerns and gen­er­ally gab about pub­lic pol­icy is­sues they’re re­spon­si­ble for over­see­ing. The per­son con­tact­ing the re­porter knows such meet­ings are open to the pub­lic, but they ask the re­porter not to be there any­way.

“No de­ci­sions are go­ing to be made,” the ex­pla­na­tion goes. “We just want an op­por­tu­nity to have a full con­ver­sa­tion and ev­ery­one will feel more com­fort­able be­ing frank if they don’t have to worry that just a men­tion of an idea might end up on the front page of the news­pa­per.”

Jour­nal­ists’ typ­i­cal re­sponse leaves them un­happy. Pub­lic of­fi­cials dis­cussing pub­lic busi­ness — par­tic­u­larly broad pol­icy con­ver­sa­tions that even­tu­ally will sway the di­rec­tion of a city, county or school district — should be car­ried out in the open. If pub­lic of­fi­cials can’t be “frank” with the pub­lic, what ex­actly is it they’re try­ing to do?

But, let’s be frank here: Any­one who spends time around most po­lit­i­cal types know there are cer­tain things they’ll say in pri­vate that they’ll never say in pub­lic. Why? Be­cause there’s al­ways another elec­tion around the cor­ner or say­ing what one re­ally thinks won’t be ad­van­ta­geous to ad­vanc­ing their cause.

In the last week or so, we’ve wit­nessed vari­ants of the in­abil­ity to be frank while serv­ing the pub­lic on the na­tional level.

We sub­mit for your in­spec­tion the re­cent com­ments of Repub­li­can Sens. Jeff Flake of Ari­zona and Bob Corker of Ten­nessee.

“We were not made great as a coun­try by in­dulging in or even ex­alt­ing our worst im­pulses, turn­ing against our­selves, glo­ri­fy­ing in the things that di­vide us and call­ing fake things true and true things fake,” he said in a speech on the Se­nate floor, ex­plain­ing he can no longer be “com­plicit” with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, so he will step down at the end of the cur­rent term.

Corker ear­lier had de­cried how Trump “de­bases our coun­try” and is de­stroy­ing the na­tion’s re­la­tion­ships around the world. He, too, does not plan to seek re-elec­tion in 2018.

Ap­par­ently, noth­ing frees the tongue quite so much as a de­ci­sion not to seek re-elec­tion.

Just the other day here in North­west Arkansas, for­mer U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas gave his assess­ment of the state of gov­ern­ment.

“Peo­ple are frus­trated with gov­ern­ment be­cause they feel no­body in it lis­tens to them,” said Pryor, a Demo­crat who lost his re-elec­tion bid to Tom Cot­ton in 2014. “Guess what? No­body is lis­ten­ing to them.”

Can you imag­ine Pryor say­ing such a thing when he was a sit­ting se­na­tor? It’s only been a cou­ple of years. It didn’t all fall apart just since he left the halls of Congress.

Wouldn’t it be nice to wit­ness such blunt talk be­fore th­ese elected of­fi­cials are out of of­fice or on their way out?

One of the more amaz­ing as­pects of Pres­i­dent Trump is how so many of his sup­port­ers say they like him be­cause he “tells it like it is.” Well, no, he doesn’t. He tells it like he wants peo­ple to see things. But the point is well taken. Trump’s pop­u­lar­ity is in large part at­trib­uted to the fact he’s a non­tra­di­tional politi­cian, one who says things a good num­ber of Amer­i­cans are say­ing them­selves. They’ve got­ten so tired of the gob­bledy­gook that flows from the mouths of most politi­cians, they were will­ing to over­look flaw af­ter flaw af­ter flaw in a man they wanted to “drain the swamp.”

It would be nice if our elected lead­ers spoke clearly about the poli­cies they sup­port or the ideas they dis­agree strongly with. If they called a spade a spade. If they weren’t con­stantly cal­cu­lat­ing the eas­i­est path to­ward re-elec­tion and mak­ing sure not to say any­thing that might up­set their core vot­ers.

Our na­tion’s fu­ture isn’t served by an ir­ra­tional rev­er­ence for pop­ulism or a de­sire that our lead­ers will al­low it to re­place rea­son. Po­lit­i­cal lead­ers should lis­ten to con­stituents, but they also should pro­vide lead­er­ship that only they can de­liver by virtue of the work they do, the staffs they have and the time they com­mit to a full un­der­stand­ing of the na­tion’s prob­lems.

If be­ing frank with the pub­lic is viewed as a neg­a­tive, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers should re-eval­u­ate what they’re think­ing or do­ing, or they should take the lead in in­flu­enc­ing the pub­lic to­ward their way of think­ing.

What they shouldn’t do is wait un­til the door is about to hit them on the be­hind as they de­part, or al­ready has, be­fore the pub­lic gets an hon­est assess­ment out of their mouths.

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