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Opinion: What they don’t say and do is hurting us all

If the job of the police is to prevent crime, protect us, and maintain order, and they do none of the above, what happens? If the job of the teacher is to teach and educate, and they don’t, do they get to keep their job? If the job of the sports coach is to win, and they don’t, how long do they get to keep their job? If the cook or the waitress at your favorite restaurant doesn’t show up, does their boss just ignore it?

So, what exactly is the job of our elected officials — say Georgia legislators, for example? Is it to not lose the next election, no matter what? Is it to always be reelected? What if that is all they ever care about or do? Is that “doing their job” to you? Should they keep their job?

Is their job to protect us, like law enforcement? “Of course it is,” you say. How about our Democracy? Is it their job to protect our system — like “rule of law” or those ol’ “checks and balances?”

“Now you’re getting tricky,” you are thinking. Sure sounds like a trick question.

What do we expect of them? I mean, really expect. Have you thought about that lately?

Do you expect your legislator to speak up when something is going wrong or something is being voted on that is not in your best interest? Is that a fair question? Well, what do you think?

I am kind of old school. I still expect someone’s word to be their bond and a handshake is better than something in writing. Now, I don’t actually recall my dad teaching me very much about stuff like that, but mother read to us all the time –– from the Bible, from literature and so much more. Most of what she read to us had lessons, life lessons as central to the plots.

Don’t lie (“The Boy who Cried Wolf”), Don’t steal (“Jack and the Beanstalk”), honor others (the story about the horse that lost its shoe and the battle was lost), and more.

Those lessons from 60 years ago stick with me, and I have passed them on to my children. They have taken those lessons to heart; they live their lives by them. They make me proud each day.

My questions to them are: “Didn’t our elected officials’ moms read to them too? Weren’t they taught about honor, integrity, and respect? Didn’t their daddy’s take a belt to some of them when he caught them lying or being disrespectful?”

If the answer is “yes,” then one has to ask the follow up question: “Why don’t these values show up in how they act as elected representatives?”

Stop, before you get too flustered, let me explain.

I once asked a good friend who is a legislator why he voted to permit guns in churches and if he really thought that was a good idea. “Of course not,” he said, with admirable honesty, “but because of my district, if I had voted against that bill, they would have thrown me out next election,” he replied. Of note, not one of his colleagues voted against that one either.

Or how about this one. A former office holder - once told his niece that he was running for office because the incumbent had been in office for so long and that he - my friend - believed in term limits. Well, years later, when his niece asked him why he was fighting to stay in office (just like his predecessor), he asked her if she remembered that book “Lord of the Rings” and what having that ring in someone’s possession did to them.

Not all elected officials only make decisions that are politically expedient, but I think it is fair to say that most of them do. And the thing about that is when they are faced with something that is just not right — and often very bad not right — instead of speaking up they just hide, hide under the cloak of absence. Absent saying or doing something that is politically not expedient, they cannot be held accountable for their acts or their views if they just keep their mouth shut. And the crazy thing about that is that the majority behave that way and actually believe that if they just don’t say anything, no one will notice what they have not said or done. That is their play book.

But I suggest that does not make them nearly as invisible as they think.

Their silence, more often than not, is a roar that can be heard for miles around — this silence of not speaking up, of not standing up, this silence of sticking their heads in the sand and hiding and hoping that no one notices until the issue goes away and is forgotten.

Sorry, we notice.

I remember that saying, “I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees.” Shouldn’t they “do the right thing” even if it means that it may damage their chances of reelection? Is being reelected what you expect from your representative even when his or her actions or lack of actions are not in your best interest or “our collective best interest?”

Why aren’t they willing to “do the right thing” and live with the consequence? Why is that ring of power so compelling that they are willing to sell their souls most of the time instead of doing the right thing?

I guess I am old school though, and my values are old fashioned. But I just can’t believe deep in my heart that many of our elected officials are old school too, but they just haven’t summoned the courage to act old school and do the right thing … because doing that is the right thing to do.

Here is a new tool you can use to monitor our elected officials, particularly our Georgia legislators. It is new from ProPublica and they tag this app with “See what your representatives in Congress say and do.” Go to Projects.propublica.org to get started or just copy and paste this into your browser: projects.propublica.org/represent/states/GA