Much like the rest of the nation, Broward county politics seems to have two distinct negative influences: corruption and fear. Here at the Daily Broward, we do our best to tackle Broward’s corruption problems in their various forms – abuse of power, manipulation and intimidation, political greed, misspent taxpayer dollars, and failure of leadership. These things are inevitably bad news for constituents.
Fear is a different influence, though, and needs to be addressed. Though fear is also present at the state and national level, it seems to run rampant in Broward politics. It’s used as a weapon by perceived power brokers to control the county governance and political processes. Fear is also often a leech, sapping the spine out of elected officials, resulting in poor decisions and compromised votes, all leading to local governance that is ineffective at best and detrimental to constituents at worst.
In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt wisely stated that “the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” It is a sentiment that Broward politicians should be keeping in mind as they serve in their offices. It should also be kept in mind by those stepping into the voting booth as we select those we place in office.
It is a sad commentary on politics today that broken promises are the norm for candidates taking office. Candidates enter office on promises of fixing the government only to lose their spine upon taking the oath of office. Sadder still are the elected officials who, after spending in years in office waving at events but cowering on issues, are reelected on empty promises of continued constituent representation. The voters consistently hope and expect for a candidate or elected official to do what he’s promised, and they vote with that hope and expectation. It isn’t naiveté that provokes voters to cast their ballots in this way. It is faith in America’s representative system of governance. Each time that faith is betrayed by the cowardice of an elected official, another citizen stops voting. Is it any surprise that voter turnout is at an all-time low?
Power brokers, lobbyists, and activists are a part of politics, and have been present throughout history. They often use fear to manipulate, cajole, and intimidate elected officials into supporting or opposing issues and legislation. They’re not new to the scene. Now, however, their influence on elected officials seems to be much greater than ever before. What has changed? The answer is a simple one: the character of the candidates and elected officials changed. Sometimes all it takes is a thinly-veiled threat or wormy whisper from a political power broker inciting fear, and suddenly an elected official’s resolve crumbles.
Worse yet is when the politician is the author of his own fear. It happens when an elected official begins to put his political future ahead of what is best for those he represents. Fear of angering one special interest or another turns the strong campaign commitments into conciliatory votes on the floor or dais. Fear of saying something that might offend turns bold campaign statements into empty explanations on why capitulation was necessary. These self-conceived fears turn a bold potential statesperson into just another vacillating politician.
Whether Republican or Democrat, serving in public office is a sacred trust with citizens. Elected officials have a duty to represent, to the best of their ability, the will of their constituents. Constituents vote for a candidate whose thoughts and political beliefs best represent their own. When an candidate is elected and then allows fear to destroy those beliefs, it is a betrayal of the constituents’ trust.
The solution to this fear is a simple one, for both candidates and voters alike. Stand up to it. For voters, this means casting a ballot for candidates and elected officials who have similar perspectives to your own and will stand by them “through thick and thin,” and “come hell or high water.” Candidates with a spine, those who will stand on their beliefs and stick to their promises, even when it is not easy to do. And if the strong candidate of today becomes the spineless elected official of tomorrow, hold him accountable at the ballot box in the next election. For candidates, this solution means saying what you truly believe, and standing by it. Your constituents expect that of you, and though this solution is simple, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It requires honesty. It requires strength of character. It requires courage.
I don’t agree with quite a few of FDR’s political decisions, but there is at least one thing that he and I would have agreed upon: the antidote to fear is courage. It’s never been more important than now for candidates and elected officials, regardless of party affiliation, to say what they TRULY believe, and have the courage to stand by it, without giving into fear.
At least, that’s the way that I see it – hopefully you do, too.