Commencement advice for politicians

Cynthia: In her famous commencement address to Harvard University students, J.K. Rowling said it was her personal failure that led to great success. Hitting rock bottom became the solid foundation on which she rebuilt her life.

In Augusta and Washington, showboating politicians are failing to govern or find commonsense solutions to our large collective problems. Carnival barkers can win elections but can’t govern.

Politics are close to hitting rock bottom, Mike. What’s your advice to those entrusted with the power to rebuild American Democracy as they get ready to “graduate” this session?

Mike: Mine? End the perpetual campaign cycle, while accepting and advancing the 70 percent solution that everyone can agree on, such as abolishing the welfare cliff. What’s your advice to those graduating from their legislative sessions?

Cynthia: I’d tell them to measure their success by how much they have helped others. Raising money, getting your picture in the paper and advancing a personal agenda deserve no credit.

You say “end the perpetual campaign cycle,” but do you insist, like many Republicans, that spending money on politicking is free speech that shouldn’t be regulated? Because the fundraising arms race is what makes people like Rand Paul filibuster a bill that jeopardizes American security. He wants attention in order to raise money. In fact, the GOP boasts constantly of its superior patriotism but it’s Republicans who star in most of the political drama causing dysfunction and gridlock.

Who knew so many in your party were theater majors?

Mike: The campaign finance issue isn’t simple — I’d say giving taxpayer dollars to politicians for politicking is wrong, and I once thought strong disclosure laws were the answer.  But people have lost their jobs for the audacious act of making a donation, so I’m not sure that is the way to fix it.  You and I may disagree, but I’d never want you to lose your job because of it.

Except maybe an elected job, but you get my point. Meanwhile, every politician is a theater major, and, like Hollywood and Broadway, they want to be paid for the act — look at Hillary’s speaking fees. You can’t possibly lay that at the feet of Republicans, even if we are the most patriotic.

Cynthia: Hillary Clinton wasn’t on the clock of the American people when she gave speeches and made gobs of money. That was the free market, baby, pure and simple.

So you don’t support publicly financed campaigns, but what about Rand Paul using his publicly-financed job as a U.S. senator to raise money for his presidential campaign? He sent out emails asking for money because he took a position on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act? Isn’t that his job?

“Don’t expect a cash reward for voting” is more advice I’d give to lawmakers.

Mike: You won’t get an argument from me on that advice, but — agree or disagree with him — I don’t think Rand Paul’s position on the Patriot Act has anything to do with money. The egg definitely came first. But incumbents using their official acts to raise money is nothing new. Remember the president’s fundraising emails sent immediately after his immigration orders?

Realistically, elected officials should forget what you or I have to say and instead follow a different Patriot’s act by taking Bill Belichick’s advice: “Do your job!” Maybe then Augusta wouldn’t punt on tax reform.

Cynthia: Lawmakers too often assume they are faced with the inevitable, but they have a choice. The Maine Legislature can change the tax code to make it more fair. Congress can lessen the influence of special interest groups and money on our democracy.

As John F. Kennedy famously said in his 1963 commencement address at American University: The pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war…But we have no more urgent task.

Mike: JFK — or his adviser Ted Sorensen — certainly had some lofty words. But I’d settle if Augusta and Washington followed the counsel of another Navy man: “start off by making your bed.”  Adm. William McRaven’s advice last year to the graduates of the University of Texas applies equally to politics. Get the first, simple task done to start your day, and build from there.

Success begets success and, against all odds, we might just see progress — and moving your country forward is the true act of a patriot.

Cynthia: Yes! And politics makes strange bedfellows, so make sure you have crisp sheets.

Jane Lynch had some crisp advice for Smith College grads that’s apropos for the theaters in Augusta and D.C.: “’YES AND’ is the vital and only rule of improvisation. Never deny your fellow actor.”