Responsible. Respected. Rational.

I’m not talking about myself here, directly. By the terms in the headline above, I am talking about what kinds of candidates the major political parties should recommend for America’s primary and general election ballots later this year.

Sometimes it is easiest to define a term by describing its opposite. For the adjectives responsible, respected, and rational, the opposites are descriptors such as reckless, crazy, embarrassing, selfish, petty, hateful, and polarizing. Not to mention irresponsible, disrespected, and irrational, obviously.

Pendulums swing and seas change. It is time for politics to swing back from being divisive and dysfunctional, in part by a dramatic change back to following the lead of responsible, respected, and rational people.

My Mount Rushmore of Qualities

I think we all agree that good candidates for public office need to have certain core characteristics. The thing on which we may not all see eye-to-eye is the specific identity of those necessary traits. Focusing primarily on the U.S. House of Representatives, below is my list of three features that I believe we need from our representatives in Congress.

Responsible. Abraham Lincoln, who has been the most lauded of all American presidents, put it this way: “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

The federal House of Representatives, first and foremost, is the “keeper of the purse.” Because that purse contains taxpayer dollars, the House must indeed keep it extra carefully. That is the concept of fiscal responsibility. If the House “has only one job,” it is to act timely to pass a budget, ideally a balanced budget. With a national debt over $34 trillion, a responsible member of the House would do everything possible to avoid adding to that debt, then set out to lower it.

To do otherwise is to “escape the responsibility of tomorrow” by borrowing yet more money, while living off continuing resolutions rather than actual budgets to evade the responsibility today.

A responsible House member also would keep the nation’s promises. Those include the commitment that retirees who paid into the Social Security trust fund would receive full payments as long as they lived in retirement. Another category of America’s promises is to defend our allies and democracy. Responsible people are promise keepers.

Respected. As you may recall if you closely followed my Principle Based Politics blog from 2021 through 2023, the principle of respect means not just that a leader must personally show respect and be respected, but he or she must bring respect to our country.

Theodore Roosevelt, who was another monumental president, offered instruction for one simple way a national leader can command respect: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

The first two words of that often-repeated maxim refer to humility, dignity, intelligence, kindness, and peacefulness. Quick question: How many political leaders can you name who follow Roosevelt’s advice to “speak softly” in these ways, circa 2024?

Regarding the “carry a big stick” component, Roosevelt was not such a Teddy Bear (pun intended). He was advocating for a strong, lethal military that could make any opponent regret picking a fight with the United States. Members of Congress would be wise to remember the vital need for worldwide respect of our military.

Yet another way to determine whether a would-be leader will garner respect at home and abroad is by whether the person has credibility. Credibility, like respect, is something easier lost than gained. One way America loses credibility (and thus respect) is when our leaders lie. Another way is when we make threats and don’t carry them out. In short, when our word is not good, we are no good to anyone as a leader, and no citizen or country will respect us.

Rational. A rational member of Congress will speak and vote not based on anger, greed, ego, or hatred. The word rational means actions based on reasons or logic, rather than any emotions or selfish motives. Rationality in Congress requires each member to seek first to understand the facts and reasons supporting the various potential outcomes, and then to say and do whatever is in the best interests of the American people as a whole.

“I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led,” said Thomas Jefferson, another Rushmorian president.

Delegates

During the current endorsement and nomination phases of the 2024 election cycle, the words responsible, respected, and rational take on extra meaning for convention delegates and primary voters alike. For example, responsible delegates in my district will understand their accountability to the voters to bring them the best Republican option. The responsibility of the GOP is to endorse and nominate a candidate the voters of the purple-at-best Third District will want.

Respected delegates look for nominees whose views will carry weight with voters this fall. And, Third District voters want candidates in the primary election and November general election who will bring respect to – rather than embarrass them in – the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rational convention-goers are those who do their homework to learn the facts and then apply reason and logic to their endorsement decisions. In short, Third District voters will go to the polls wanting non-crazy, non-divisive candidates. Voters have had enough polarization.

Bringing you the best candidate options is my mission. “I cannot tell a lie,” as George Washington, the cornerstone of Mount Rushmore, once said.

Quentin R. Wittrock

Responsible. Respected. Rational.

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