Five Things Congress Can Do to Restore Trust

Published: January 14, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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The Economy, Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Healthcare, Taxes, Energy Independence – all are important actions Americans want to see accomplished by the next Congress and President.

But, before they can begin to tackle an unprecedented “to-do list,” Congress needs to start by reforming how government operates.

According to the Gallup organization’s annual Governance poll (Sept. 2008), “Just 26% say they are satisfied with the way the nation is being governed.”

In an Honesty and Trust poll by Zogby, International (Aug. 2006), 75% of Americans said that they had “less trust in government than five years ago.”

Last week, the 111th Congress began with a formal swearing-in of new members in both the House and Senate.  Out in the rain was Illinois Senate designate Roland Burris.  At first, denied entry because Majority Leader Harry Reid and others vowed not to seat anyone appointed by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich since his arrest on corruption charges stemming from offering to sell that very seat.  However, on Monday of this week, Senator Reid, relented and agreed, along with his colleagues, to seat Mr. Burris.

As I pointed out in Wrong Choice (Jan. 2), it’s not about Burris’s integrity.  It’s about the integrity of the process.  Democrats quickly came to their own legal (and political) conclusions about Burris and chose to avoid further distractions for a newly elected Democratic president by seating the Illinois appointee based on the rule of law rather than adhere to an inconvenience of ethical responsibility.

The Burris decision, once again, not only underscores the importance of having strong ethical guidelines, but living up to them no matter the inconvenience or personal cost.

At the end of the day, it’s about trust.

With that in mind, I put forth five ideas Congress can do to restore the trust and confidence of the American people.

True Bipartisanship – In the Capps/Zogby Post-Election Poll(Dec. 2008), when asked what one or two things Congress needs to do, 3,357 Americans repeatedly said things such as, “work for America, not the party,” “quite blaming,” “stop the partisan fighting,” “end politics of division,” “cut bickering,” “put the American people first.”

Independent Oversight – If Congress believesSarbanes/Oxley is an important regulation for public companies, why not Congress itself? It’s not only a public entity but is responsible for billions of taxpayer money.  And political leaders should not be any more exempt from independent oversight than corporations.

Transparency and Accountability – The Capps/Zogby poll noted many comments like these:  “restore integrity to politics,” “accountability in Congress,” “address political corruption,” “honesty, ethics,” “restore truth and integrity to our government.”  Americans no longer want talk.  They expect sincere, responsible action from elected officials.

Restore Respect – The American people want to see a genuine return to courtesy, civility, and decency.   Among the many comments from the Capps Poll:  “Restore America’s leadership,” “restore confidence,” “restore dignity,” “restore faith in America,” “restore our reputation around the world.”

Ethical Leadership – Americans want real leadership reflected in their own Senators and Representatives.  Time and again, people have said that they expect individual members to rise above party loyalty and practice the kind of authentic leadership that is worthy of the public’s trust.

They want leadership that is: “enlightened,” “consensual” and “strong;” a leadership that demonstrates clear and consistent thought for the interests of all and compassion for those in need.  Most of all, they want the kind of leadership that will restore respect in elected leaders.

Ethics is not about what we say, intend or legally justify.  Justice Potter Stewart said, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”

Ethics is about how an honorable person should behave.

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