The public’s disdain for Congress is justified

In "The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham," Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley describe an important meeting the Rev. Graham and his leadership team held in 1948. Too many shady evangelists had given Christian leaders a bad name: poor handling of money, sexual scandals, badmouthing of others doing similar work, and general dishonesty were all undermining the church’s work.

So, Graham’s team developed principles to "lock them in" to ethical behavior. As an example, Graham committed then to never being alone with a woman who was not his wife: Not only would he avoid that temptation for the rest of his life, but perhaps more importantly he would eliminate the appearance of any impropriety.

Graham, recalled an associate, always insisted on "total integrity." To achieve that level, he committed to lifelong disciplines that would leave his character unquestioned and unquestionable.

Congress could take a page out of Graham’s book.

In a recent Milwaukee Biz Blog, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) played politics as usual by attacking plans by the "Democratic majority" to "spend, spend, spend."

This, after he voted for 28,000 earmarks over six years and cast one of the deciding votes for Medicare Part D – one of the largest and costliest entitlement programs in American history. In short, he overlooked the log in his own eye to find a speck in his opponent’s.

He also called on Democrats to act on tax cuts passed a few years ago when Republicans were in charge which are set to expire, or "sunset," soon. What he’s not telling you is that he voted to "sunset" the legislation in the first place. Why? So Congress – while Mr. Sensenbrenner was a leader in the Republican majority – could continue to falsify the long-term budget projections, assuring us that in spite of all those earmarks and entitlement expansions (combined with tax cuts), tomorrow’s books will magically balance (they won’t).

An added benefit was that Republicans could set themselves up to do exactly what Mr. Sensenbrenner is doing today – bash Democrats for wanting to "raise taxes" when the sunset approaches.

"Total integrity" means being honest about the numbers. It means dealing fairly and honestly with your colleagues.

It also means striving to avoid the appearance of impropriety. 

Earlier this month, the Center for Responsive Politics issued the results of a study of congressmen invested in defense contractors. Over one fourth of all members of Congress own stocks in the same companies that received hundreds of billions of dollars in defense contracts – and many congressmen benefited financially.

At the top of the list was our own Congressman Sensenbrenner, who earned at least $3.2 million between 2004 and 2006 on defense-industry investments alone.

Similarly, Mr. Sensenbrenner voted in favor of Medicare’s Prescription Drug Program in 2003 – a $9 trillion entitlement expansion – while having massive holdings in pharmaceutical industry stocks.

In any other industry, this would be considered insider trading. To avoid the appearance of impropriety and the temptation to vote for legislation that personally benefits them, many congressmen and senators voluntarily put their investments into "blind trusts." But Mr. Sensenbrenner did not support legislation mandating that members of Congress put their funds into blind trusts.

A judge would not rule on a case involving a pharmaceutical company he owned stock in. So why would a congressman vote for legislation that positively affected the value of stocks he owned in pharmaceutical companies – or defense contractors? 

Even if it’s not corrupt, it sure looks bad.

A similar problem exists with the impact of special interest money. Many members of Congress, including Mr. Sensenbrenner, take millions of dollars from special interests, then vote for legislation that positively affects the very interests that fund their campaigns (the majority of his campaign contributions come from special interests). Or they accept gifts, like the hundreds of thousands of dollars in free travel given Congressman Sensenbrenner, from organizations looking to benefit from Congressional legislation.  
It may not be illegal, but it sure looks bad.

Billy Graham understood that leaders need to be held to a higher standard because their actions impact a wide audience. A pastor’s example inspires the congregation, while his moral failings undermine the faith and trust of many.

Similarly, our political leaders can aim to elevate and motivate the people they represent by example, or they can take the low road, playing to the public’s expectations that all politicians are dirty and that Congress is an arena for combat – instead of cooperation in the public interest. 

Public confidence in our leaders is at an all-time low – under 20 percent in the most recent approval ratings of Congress. That’s because too few of our leaders care to do what great leaders do best – inspire, lead by example, work together, and understand that appearances matter. 

It’s time we expected more of our leaders.  

Jim Burkee is an associate professor of history at Concordia University Wisconsin and is a Republican candidate for Congress in Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District against F. James Sensenbrenner.

In "The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham," Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley describe an important meeting the Rev. Graham and his leadership team held in 1948. Too many shady evangelists had given Christian leaders a bad name: poor handling of money, sexual scandals, badmouthing of others doing similar work, and general dishonesty were all undermining the church’s work.

So, Graham’s team developed principles to "lock them in" to ethical behavior. As an example, Graham committed then to never being alone with a woman who was not his wife: Not only would he avoid that temptation for the rest of his life, but perhaps more importantly he would eliminate the appearance of any impropriety.

Graham, recalled an associate, always insisted on "total integrity." To achieve that level, he committed to lifelong disciplines that would leave his character unquestioned and unquestionable.

Congress could take a page out of Graham’s book.

In a recent Milwaukee Biz Blog, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) played politics as usual by attacking plans by the "Democratic majority" to "spend, spend, spend."

This, after he voted for 28,000 earmarks over six years and cast one of the deciding votes for Medicare Part D – one of the largest and costliest entitlement programs in American history. In short, he overlooked the log in his own eye to find a speck in his opponent’s.

He also called on Democrats to act on tax cuts passed a few years ago when Republicans were in charge which are set to expire, or "sunset," soon. What he’s not telling you is that he voted to "sunset" the legislation in the first place. Why? So Congress – while Mr. Sensenbrenner was a leader in the Republican majority – could continue to falsify the long-term budget projections, assuring us that in spite of all those earmarks and entitlement expansions (combined with tax cuts), tomorrow’s books will magically balance (they won’t).

An added benefit was that Republicans could set themselves up to do exactly what Mr. Sensenbrenner is doing today – bash Democrats for wanting to "raise taxes" when the sunset approaches.

"Total integrity" means being honest about the numbers. It means dealing fairly and honestly with your colleagues.

It also means striving to avoid the appearance of impropriety. 

Earlier this month, the Center for Responsive Politics issued the results of a study of congressmen invested in defense contractors. Over one fourth of all members of Congress own stocks in the same companies that received hundreds of billions of dollars in defense contracts – and many congressmen benefited financially.

At the top of the list was our own Congressman Sensenbrenner, who earned at least $3.2 million between 2004 and 2006 on defense-industry investments alone.

Similarly, Mr. Sensenbrenner voted in favor of Medicare’s Prescription Drug Program in 2003 – a $9 trillion entitlement expansion – while having massive holdings in pharmaceutical industry stocks.

In any other industry, this would be considered insider trading. To avoid the appearance of impropriety and the temptation to vote for legislation that personally benefits them, many congressmen and senators voluntarily put their investments into "blind trusts." But Mr. Sensenbrenner did not support legislation mandating that members of Congress put their funds into blind trusts.

A judge would not rule on a case involving a pharmaceutical company he owned stock in. So why would a congressman vote for legislation that positively affected the value of stocks he owned in pharmaceutical companies – or defense contractors? 

Even if it’s not corrupt, it sure looks bad.

A similar problem exists with the impact of special interest money. Many members of Congress, including Mr. Sensenbrenner, take millions of dollars from special interests, then vote for legislation that positively affects the very interests that fund their campaigns (the majority of his campaign contributions come from special interests). Or they accept gifts, like the hundreds of thousands of dollars in free travel given Congressman Sensenbrenner, from organizations looking to benefit from Congressional legislation.  
It may not be illegal, but it sure looks bad.

Billy Graham understood that leaders need to be held to a higher standard because their actions impact a wide audience. A pastor’s example inspires the congregation, while his moral failings undermine the faith and trust of many.

Similarly, our political leaders can aim to elevate and motivate the people they represent by example, or they can take the low road, playing to the public’s expectations that all politicians are dirty and that Congress is an arena for combat – instead of cooperation in the public interest. 

Public confidence in our leaders is at an all-time low – under 20 percent in the most recent approval ratings of Congress. That’s because too few of our leaders care to do what great leaders do best – inspire, lead by example, work together, and understand that appearances matter. 

It’s time we expected more of our leaders.  

Jim Burkee is an associate professor of history at Concordia University Wisconsin and is a Republican candidate for Congress in Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District against F. James Sensenbrenner.

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