Compromise is an important part of leadership, federal budget debate

(This letter was originally submitted to The Rockdale Citizen on May 11, 2011).

Dear Editor,

On May 10th, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) unveiled a budget proposal that cuts national spending from 25% of the GDP to 18.5%.   Like other plans, Toomey’s enacts restrictions on entitlement spending and healthcare reform.

As I listened to the conference, what I found interesting was not the proposal itself, but the rhetoric framing the budget debate as communicated from the Republican co-signers of the proposal.  It was Toomey’s fellow Senators, Jim DeMint and Marco Rubio (of South Carolina and Florida respectively), that thanked him for his leadership on this issue.

Leadership:  When it comes to the budget debate, this loaded term invokes the apparent in-action of the Obama Administration in contrast to the Republican Party’s commitment to resolve the issue.

Whenever I hear about leadership, I get a little nervous.  Are the Republicans looking for leadership that seeks to balance the budget in a prudent and tempered fashion—a type of leadership that navigates through the complexity of a multi-trillion dollar system?  Or are they seeking the type of leadership like that of the previous presidential Administration, in which the executive branch bullied the legislative and judicial branches?

Leadership without patience and prudence has the potential to unleash unintended and long-term consequences.  The previous Administration’s costly and ill-informed unilateral attack on Iraq is just one example where lack of prudence failed to garner positive, cost-cutting results.

And there is something to be said about the Democratic Party’s inability to form a budget proposal whatsoever.  Certainly, a recession makes a proposal all the more difficult; but for a party that had control of both houses of Congress, this lack of leadership is inexcusable.

Suffice it to say, budgets are more complex than some might assume.  It took my wife and me days to carve out a budget on a mere five-figure income.  Imagine the time it takes to do that on a trillion-dollar scale—with a “scalpel” (in the words of President Obama) at that.

When it comes to weighty matters in which an entire nation is involved, leadership with an eye towards compromise is key to bringing about positive reform.  After all, the Constitution itself  was born out of compromise—Remember the “Great Compromise” in which the Founding Fathers married the best of the New Jersey and Virginia plans to develop representation in Congress?

Compromise is not a sign of weakness; it’s the foundation upon which our very democracy was built.

If leadership is the problem, both parties seem to be guilty, for true leadership happens when persons of difference can sit down and produce a plan that’s in the best interest of the greatest good.

There is great concern that federal debt must be dealt with, lest the issue become a problem for our children in years to come—to quote Sen. Rubio, if there is no action, “We will be the first Americans to leave our children worse off than ourselves.”

Perhaps we should ask ourselves what kind of legacy we are leaving our children when it comes to wise governing.  I’d rather model for my children healthy teamwork and conflict resolution than to pass on the anxious uncertainty inherent in partisan pontificating.   Let’s pray that both parties can get their act together and get us on the road to economic stability.

Blessings,

Rev. Joe LaGuardia

Presence can make all the difference in one’s spiritual journey

Nearly two months have passed since an historical senate race in Massachusetts afforded a Republican, Scott Brown, a win for the congressional seat long-held by a Democrat. Although Sen. Brown ran a fantastic race to win, it was Democratic contender Martha Coakley’s lack of campaign gusto that helped tip the race in Brown’s favor.

While Brown canvassed communities throughout the small state in search of votes, Coakley took three weeks off in December to enjoy the holiday season. When asked by a Boston Globe reporter why she was not campaigning, she made an ill-fated remark in which she asked why a candidate of her caliber should stand in freezing weather outside of Fenway Park to shake hands with the public.

Coakley did not realize that being present with people is precisely what successful campaigns are all about. More significantly, being present with people is what being human is all about.

Being present in one another’s lives is the single most important attribute that makes for a cohesive and caring community. When we think of all the special people we have known over the years, I bet that they are special because they were present with us in times of transition, trial or triumph.

Even people who had little to offer made a difference because of the simple fact that when we needed someone to talk to or cry with, he or she was present in our greatest time of need.

True, authentic friendship is a scarce commodity these days. A recent poll I noted in a previous article stated that 61 percent of people have only a few, if any, close friends. Only one in four people have someone to confide in. These are dismal and foreboding figures that point to a growing sense of isolation in our society.

Several Bible verses that my Catholic brothers and sisters will appreciate state that a friend’s presence provides a “sturdy shelter” and “life-saving medicine” (Ecclesiasticus 6:14-17). Jesus calls us to be in community and be present with those who are looking for confidants and spiritual guides. This is part of what Peter meant when he wrote that we are a “priesthood of all believers.”

We are called to relate to every person with whom we come into contact. We are called to suffer with others, show kindness towards others, sympathize with the plight of others, and offer a listening ear to others. First John 3:18 says to do so as we seek to “love others in word and speech.”

Our friendship is a form of medicine indeed.

Over the past year, I have made a commitment to be present with others and help my church — and other churches — be present in the community. I learned that the little, subtle things make the biggest difference.

I visited a church in New York last year and noticed that the church’s three big, red front doors were closed. Since it was my first time visiting the church, it took me 10 minutes to find the entrance. It was a single, unmarked door in the back of the building. It was across from the dumpster.

I brought this to the pastor’s attention. Although opening those big doors will not magically allow the congregation to be physically present with others, open doors communicate that the church has an investment in the spiritual and moral life of the neighborhood. It communicates an acute presence and relevance to the surrounding environment.

Being present acts as a bridge in our relationships with others because it connects us with God’s presence in our lives. And, fortunately for us, God still stands with us whether it is a cold or hot day, at a ballpark or in the quietness of our hearts.