I had an interesting observation about the Congressional hearings last week featuring famed Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens and the accusations in Major League Baseball’s Mitchell Report of his alleged use of steroids and human growth hormone. As I read about Rep. Henry Waxman attacking Mr. Clemens’ integrity and Rep. Dan Burton, the ranking Republican on the committee, questioning the veracity of Brian McNamee, Clemens’ accuser, I couldn’t shake the image of two elected officials who owe their status and influence to the people who elected them, sitting on a high dais looking down on their “subjects” as if they were royalty and the people before them mere serfs. Both Waxman and Burton were engaged in behavior we typically associate with people who consider themselves members of the ruling class.
This image is not confined to Capitol Hill, either. Attend any local meeting of county commissioners, city council members or other elected officials and the scene is practically the same. The elected officials sit behind an ornate wooden dais and gesture for the serfs – er, citizens – to come forward and speak. Sometimes the elected officials can be dismissive or even brusque with the individuals before them as if they have been accorded an honor of immeasurable proportions to be allowed to approach the dais and they’d better show them the proper respect. I first felt this way in 1993 when I went before the city council in Melbourne, Florida to petition for a change to the city’s zoning ordinances so home-based businesses could apply for business licenses. The council members allowed me to speak for a very limited period of time, discussed the topic among themselves as if I wasn’t there and didn’t allow me to rebut any of the negative claims they made in their “private” discussion. The good news is that I persevered and single-handedly persuaded them to change their ordinance to allow home-based businesses. The bad news is that I left fuming about how I was treated and often exclaimed to my family and friends, “Who’s working for whom here?” After all, they owe their very livelihood to me and thousands of others like me who saw fit to drape upon their shoulders the mantle of leadership. It appeared to me that they had forgotten the second word in the phrase “public servant.”
That said, it’s very appropriate on this Presidents Day to look back at the life of George Washington, our first President and the one whose birthday we in fact commemorate on Presidents Day. Did you know that “Presidents Day” is not the official name of today’s holiday? Advertisers coined the phrase so we can recognize both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, both of whom were born in February, on the same day – it’s better for sales, I guess. Some states extend the commemoration to include more or all the Presidents of the United States, but the official name of the federal holiday is “Washington’s Birthday.” There’s some Presidents Day trivia
for you (grin)!