American Politics According To Alice Waters

Alice Waters at JWU: Lecturn

ALICE WATERS  (Photo credit: Andy Ciordia)

Alice Waters, a leading light in the movement for nutritious, organic, and local food, was interviewed in the Washington Post this week. One quote would be a good meditation for all who are concerned about the human condition in America, as we approach the 2014 midterm elections.

“I’m in this very political place right now and feel like we have to collaborate in different ways to make a big impression, to change the way that we are living our lives, which is destroying our health and the planet. I certainly want to feel like I have tried to take care of this planet for the kids of this world. I really have to do something.”

Please focus your attention on the word “collaborate.”

Politicians have oversized egos. Every two-bit politician running for office, from sea to shining sea, from governor to state legislator to dog catcher, wants to think of himself or herself as a LEADER. Yikes! It’s true in my state, Maryland.

What we need now are FOLLOWERS. Please don’t misunderstand.

I’m not talking about blind followers. I’m specifically not talking about one form of following, the unthinking, “go along to get along” attitude that too often corrupts politics.

Too many leaders, not enough followers

Maybe we should not think of “followers” as the opposite of “leaders.” Maybe Alice Waters hit on the right word when she said “collaborate.”

In this era of can’t-do government, gridlock, and dysfunction, what we need are elected leaders who are willing to shrink their egos and adopt a humble attitude. We need elected leaders, from governor to dog catcher, who are willing and able to practice the arts of cooperation, collaboration, facilitation.

An old political saying applies:

“Great things can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.”

Along the same lines, I read somewhere:

“The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

You could look it up. It’s applicable whether you’re a churchgoer or a secular politician.

Charles de Gaulle sits down with rival Henri G...

LEADERS:  Franklin D. Roosevelt (second from left), Charles de Gaulle (center) and Winston Churchill at the Casablanca Conference, 14 January 1943. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OK, let’s stipulate that leadership is critical. How could WWII have been won without FDR, Churchill and Eisenhower? Their leadership was essential. They succeeded through the willing cooperation of millions of citizens, workers, soldiers.

My point:  Presidents, governors, mayors are leaders. Most members of Congress and state legislatures who insist on pretending to leadership are throwing sand in the gears.

Most members of legislative bodies are better as team members. Their job is not to lead but to follow.

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...

ONE LEADER, MANY FOLLOWERS: Gen. Dwight Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whether in Congress or in the Maryland House of Delegates, we have only a few leaders. The Speaker of the House is the primary leader. A handful of lieutenants and committee chairs share the burden of leadership. Legislators ascend to leadership by being team players. If they can’t be depended on as part of the team, they don’t get promoted.

Rank and file members of Congress and state legislatures have important jobs. Their job is to listen, learn and study the bills and budgets before them. And to give their advice when appropriate. They play a small part in the success of the big team, but not as significant a part as a player on a high school football team.

The U.S. House of Representatives has 435 members, the Maryland House of Delegates, 141. Compare to a football team (11 players at any one time), a baseball team (nine), or a basketball team (five). You do the math. Each member of a legislature has one vote out of many.

One vote on the floor or in committee is a legislator’s only power. Members of legislative bodies are puny creatures. Except for a few true leaders, individual members are insignificant. They make themselves important by doing their job as a member of the team. And by voting their one vote honestly.

(A paradox on a legislative team is this: Even the leaders serve only at the pleasure of a majority of their followers.)

What a system! But it works well when the players cooperate. When every member of the team tries to lead, the engine seizes up and the wheels come off the bus.

Alice Waters deserves the last words: “We have to collaborate in different ways to make a big impression.” Meditate on that.

Oh, and Ms. Waters also says, “We have to change the way that we are living our lives, which is destroying our health and the planet.”

But that’s a subject for a different sermon.

— John Hayden

4 thoughts on “American Politics According To Alice Waters

  1. Thanks John for elevating the conversation with your insightful view on the roles of elected officials. When humans thoughtfully collaborate, much good work can be accomplished.


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s