The Sin of Caring: Wisdom from Mark Etterling

The post-election exit polling proved that Obama got a big bump simply by showing up for a photo-op with Chris Christie after Hurricane Sandy even though he was only on the ground for a very short time.  The reply from most respondents was that they thought it showed how much he “cared”.  This commentary isn’t about bashing Obama for what he did or didn’t do.  It’s about bashing the ignorance of people who would ever vote for any candidate, whether Democrat or Republican, for such a stupid reason.  Personally, I don’t waste time concerning myself about how much any politician cares.  What I do concern myself with is if politicians are doing the right things regardless of whether they care or not.
It shouldn’t really matter if a politician is white or black, gay or straight, man or woman, or from any other type of demographic.  Nor should we be looking for exact perfection in any candidate’s philosophy or character.  The way I see it, the only way I’ll ever find a candidate that agrees with me on every issue is if I run for office myself and sometimes even I find myself conflicted.  As far as I can tell the only person ever to have had a perfect character ended up getting crucified for it.  For the rest, none of us are completely sin free, so why hold up unrealistic expectations about our candidates?
In the modern era of politics we find ourselves perpetually complaining about how terrible our government is.  The current congressional approval rating is floundering in the single digits.  Since the current Congress is evenly split on control both sides are equally at fault.  However, the real blame for all this mess actually lays with us the voters.  We tend to put far too much emphasis on the emotional aspects of who we vote for instead of considering the logical tools that are required for our politicians to find the appropriate answers to today’s issues.  To put it bluntly, we aren’t getting the right answers from our politicians because we’ve become so apathetic about the things that really matter that we aren’t even asking the right questions in the first place.  We allow the media to waste time discussing whether Obama is a Muslim or about Romney being a Mormon.  Who cares when we should have been demanding that both explain how their tax strategies would have worked.
We fret over political correctness when in truth political correctness is nothing more than a buzz word for censorship.  We waste time complaining about all the political discourse and whether our leaders get along, play nice together, and compromise instead of worrying about them getting things right.  Political discourse shouldn’t be cursed, it should be celebrated.  I could care less if our leaders don’t like each other and have disagreements.  What I do care about is that they find real solutions to real problems even if it does elicit some name calling along the way.  Besides, disagreements are actually a good thing in both business and politics because it means you are looking at issues from various angles.  As a business leader I don’t want to surround myself with a bunch of “yes men”.  I prefer those around me to give me their own thoughts regardless of if they agree with mine or not so that we don’t overlook any potential obstacles when formulating solutions.  What we don’t do is compromise on the right answer just so that we can all get along.
Two plus two equals four.  If someone tells you it’s five they are wrong, period.  It’s useless to settle at 4 ½ because that isn’t the right answer either.  I don’t want politicians compromising just so they can get something passed.  Instead, I want them to hash things out in the arena of ideas until they come up with the right answer.  Otherwise, the compromise typically won’t fix things and is likely to cause a brand new mess all its own.  Whenever I hear someone say that they are willing to reach across the isle, I only want them to do so in order to slap someone upside the head when they are wrong, not so that they can take the easy route of compromise.  I want to see politicians wise up, stand up, and put their middle finger up to the whole concept of conceding to an inferior solution just to get along.
Allowing any politician to slide by simply by taking the emotional cliché response to an issue not only lets them off the hook, but typically creates an even bigger mess than what the original issue started out to be.  For example, someone might make the emotionally compelling argument that we need to raise the minimum wage rate.  It’s easy for a politician to sign off on such an idea by simply claiming that they are only looking out for the poor.  However, what doesn’t happen is any attempt to look at the long-term effects brought about by such an idea.  Yes, those at minimum wage will get a raise, but what also happens is that fewer jobs get created, worker hours get cut, prices go up, and businesses go bankrupt.  If Wal-Mart is forced to raise its pay scale every politician for miles around will give themselves a big pat on the back while proclaiming that they played a part in making it happen.  What you won’t see is the same response when the layoff notices also start flowing.
We complain about politics without realizing that it is our own apathy that makes us part of the problem, not part of the solution.  We become our own paradox by demanding so much from our politicians while at the same time asking so little.  We want to exist in a wonderful world of entitlements, but never bother asking where those entitlements are coming from.  We spout talking points without any knowledge of what the adverse affects of those talking points might be.  We accept the promise without questioning the premise.  In the long run having Obama win a second term doesn’t really scare me.  It’s the concept behind why he won a second term that scares the heck out of me.  It’s easy for a politician to destroy a nation by making all the wrong choices.  However, no politician, no matter how much they care can save a nation.  Only the people themselves can accomplish that task, and even they can’t do it through apathy or emotionalism.  We can only save ourselves once we become part of the solution.  That’s when caring really counts.
Mark Etterling

Rich Hoffman