As our focus is on the inauguration, I don’t want to lose sight of our representatives in Congress. Americans in our spirit of action are drawn to the president, as we are seem to value people who act more than those who deliberate. But I’ve found myself the past few years becoming more and more an Article 1 guy. For me the Capitol is sacred space more than the White House.
In part this is because I’ve met my own U.S. Senators and Representatives, and I’ve been in their office suites and the Capitol itself. I’ve never been at the White House or met a president. And despite the presence of plenty of people in the state and national legislatures whom I don’t admire, and others I don’t agree with – I’m still very Mr.-Smith-y about Congress. Our many elected representatives from all over are what makes this a republic, at least as much as our single elected president.
Part of what the Capitol mob attacked was the dignity of our Senators and Representatives. I worry that the images of invaders in the chambers, sitting in the chair’s seat, make the members seem small and powerless. As I said, American prize action and the very incomplete idea of leadership as the person out in front, and we love or hate those people but we pay attention and assume their power. Appreciating those who deliberate in groups, who decide what others will execute, who oversee and keep watch on them – that’s an acquired democratic taste.
We should acquire that taste.
There’s a reason Article 1 comes before Article 2 in our Constitution. There should be an aura to being an elected official, even as they should be people of the people. Just as our attention is naturally drawn to the president, we should train ourselves to pay attention to our representatives as well.
I have been fortunate in my years in New Hampshire to be represented in both the Senate and the House by members in both parties who have been people of substance. Those I voted for and those I didn’t. I’ve been in offices of Democrats and Republicans, talking both domestic and foreign policy, sometimes with the member and sometimes with staff. At least one member sat in my office as a candidate, and others have been in the our synagogue as candidates and sitting Senators and U.S. Representatives. I have lobbied them, agreed with them, argued with them.
I admire them and their roles more because I don’t think I could ever be a legislator myself. Even though I love to discuss and deliberate. Maybe at the city of school board level, but I couldn’t imagine myself as a legislator beyond that in any capital. It could be that in my role as a rabbi I’ve come to love having authority mixed in with policy deliberation. In any case, those who know how to be good legislators have a special set of virtues and skills – for research and thinking, for listening and motivating and collaborating, for passing their work on to others. These are so important, and not a little countercultural.
So let’s hear it for Article 1, and thank you to those who are serving as our democratically elected representatives. We celebrate you, as the new president comes in front of your house and ours to take his oath tomorrow.