Jim de Bree | Politics vs. Governance: The Difference

Jim de Bree
Jim de Bree

For years I have believed that it takes one set of skills to get elected to public office while it takes an altogether different skill set to perform the duties of that office. 

During the election cycle, politics prevails, but after the election governing skills should be expected of our elected officials. 

In my mind the quintessential leader who mastered both skills was Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately, the number of elected officials possessing both skills seems to be waning.  

To be fair, President Reagan did not have to deal with 21st century media. 

The 24-hour news cycle results in constant electioneering, which inevitably blurs politics and governance. Consequently, elected officials are tempted to, and sometimes do, cross the line and campaign when they should be governing. 

For example, every few days, my local congressman, Mike Garcia, sends email updates discussing what he is doing, what bills he has sponsored and how he is trying to help the community. He usually touts an agenda that appeals to his base. 

While I don’t always agree with him, I appreciate getting those messages because they update his constituents on his governance activities. 

The messages are sent at taxpayer’s expense using the House of Representatives email system. They are supposed to be messages pertaining to the fulfillment of governance responsibilities rather than overtly political messages. Although franking rules are supposed to curtail the political component of messages sent in an official capacity, those rules are dated and are difficult to apply in the world of 21st-century technology. 

Nevertheless, I was surprised to receive an email message on Feb. 11 from Garcia, in his official capacity as my congressional representative, entitled “Biden’s disappointing State of the Union.”  

That message includes a link to a Fox News interview, which is not much more than a political speech attempting to rally his base. In his written message, he even called President Joe Biden a liar.  

That may be fair game during election season when election campaigns are funding political messages. But this was done at taxpayer expense. 

While Republicans reading this may think that I am picking on Garcia, his example was the merely most recent I have encountered. Can you imagine how the Republicans would have reacted if Katie Hill had made similar statements about President Donald Trump at taxpayer expense? They would have been outraged, and rightfully so.  

Our nation faces some of the greatest challenges in decades, for which there are no easy solutions. One of the problems we face is that there are many differing views among stakeholders that seem unresolvable. 

Neither party has a clear majority, so to make progress against the challenges, the political parties have to work together. 

Getting back to Reagan: Do you remember his relationship with political adversary Tip O’Neill? They were political opposites. 

They may not have liked each other, but they found a way to get things done. 

Both were pragmatic and sought a viable solution rather than merely playing to their base. Neither party seems capable of that today. It is apparently much easier to say the opposition is idiotic than to try to work with them. 

Engaging in name calling, such as calling someone a liar, is generally counterproductive to the governance process. It causes that person to retrench, become more defensive and less likely to accept other things you say. 

Conversely, disagreeing with that person while exploring the areas of disagreement is usually a step toward achieving optimal problem resolution. Perhaps that still happens behind closed doors, but the American political system is at its best when it has a robust open political debate where the political parties objectively consider the situation and potential solutions instead of playing to their base.  

The situation is compounded because the electorate has been inundated by surveillance capitalism-enterprises that profit from providing information that the recipient wants to hear rather than an objective assessment of reality. This also obfuscates factual data, making it impossible to agree on a solution, causing politicians to placate their base rather than risk an unpopular decision. 

When doing so, they shirk their responsibilities as elected officials. 

Unfortunately, unless elected officials can get their priorities and responsibilities in order, America will stagnate. 

Jim de Bree is a Valencia resident. 

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