Office of the Repealer

People’s anger over politics and more continues to envelope the country, and the question is: what should we do with it? One answer comes from U.S. Senator Sam  Brownback, who is running for governor of Kansas. He’s proposed an “Office of the Repealer,” a new state office to terminate stupid, idiotic, and silly laws and regulations. Why not, right? Well, there’s a better path for us to take.I don’t doubt that there are numerous laws and regulations that need to be repealed. I often argue with my colleagues and friends who believe government action must be the solution to every problem. I fear when any institution gets too big or too powerful. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I do the work I do: I believe in a strong civic culture, made up of many groups, organizations, networks and individuals, all working out what’s best for society over time.

But I also disdain cheap shots like “Office of the Repealer,” and especially now, when so many individuals, families and communities need support, and when positive, constructive actions are called for. Going around Kansas – or any community or state for that matter – and pretending that an Office of the Repealer will make a big a difference in people’s lives is simply folly. And it’s cynical.

Indeed, the very notion of a repealer is about what one is “against”; but what I want to know is what an individual is “for.” For instance, those who are running for office:

What are you for when it comes to acting on the challenges involving vulnerable children and families? What are you for when it comes to dealing with housing foreclosures?

What are you for in terms of meeting our energy needs – and the trade-offs that confront us at each turn?

What are you for when it comes to helping communities get back up on their feet after losing industry and jobs?

I could go on. It’s easy to say what we’re against, what we seek to pull down, what we want to dismantle. But what we are for – that’s something different entirely. For starters, it requires that we see and hear people and genuinely speak to their concerns and aspirations. It demands the building of public will so we can take effective action. It means that we must allocate scarce resources.

In short, “what we are for” requires that we put a stake in the ground about what we believe in, what we will fight for, what we hope to become. We must make ourselves and what believe visible. There is little notion of responsibility – or accountability – in saying what we are against. All we must do is find a good target and fire away.

Yes, saying what we want to repeal may make good sound bites and make us sound tough. But what we are for actually builds communities, and people’s lives, and hope. It asks us to harness our anger for something productive. Which one do you want?