Global Matters: Get over it and do the right thing
There’s not much good you can say about losing your job.
The loss of income, the loss of security, the loss of benefits, the damage to one’s self-esteem and sense of worth – all are part of the unwanted severance package that accompanies the pink slip.
In the end there’s only one good thing that comes out of losing your job, and that’s the realization that somehow or other life goes on. You learn that you will get by, and that if you are healthy and have a roof over your head, you have a lot. You will get over it.
None of this is to say it’s an easy ride. The millions of Americans and thousands of Mainers suffering this holiday season can testify to the hardship, the stress and the fear.
But what can you do? You can’t live your life cowering in fear, keeping your head down, making one compromise after another. You have to work hard and do what you think is right.
While it is heartbreaking to lose a job – any job – it must be particularly devastating to lose a job to which you are elected; to observe elected officials in their natural habitat is to conclude that the pleasures and perquisites of high office must be so great as to render loss unthinkable.
Will politicians really say or do anything to get re-elected, and, if so, why?
According to the Congressional Research Service, members of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives earn a base salary of $174,000. Members may also earn additional income from outside sources of up to 15 percent of their salaries, subject to certain limitations. There are allowances for travel and staff, plus access to federal health and retirement systems.
All in all, it’s a nice package. It pales in comparison to what CEOs of major companies earn, but it is plenty respectable. Coupled with the prestige, the influence, the opportunity to serve the public and above all the opportunity to make a difference, it’s not hard to see why elected officials like to keep their jobs.
But can anyone name a former senator or representative who has had difficulty gaining productive employment following an electoral loss? In fact, it seems that once you’re elected and serve even a short stint in Washington, you are more than employable. Judgment, experience, profile and connections are highly marketable qualities.
Since gainful employment following service at a high federal level is pretty well assured, then, it would be particularly nice to see an elected official – guided solely by principle – stand up in the well of the Senate or on the floor of the House and say, “I feel very strongly about this issue, so strongly that I am willing to risk my job – as you know, I am up for re-election this year – to see that we do the right thing.
“I’m far less concerned with what my party leaders think than what my constituents think.
“I’m far less concerned about my PAC than I am about people on the bread line.
“I’m so concerned for the thousands who are unemployed and uninsured in my state that I am willing to eliminate tax breaks that primarily benefit those who fund my campaign.
“I’m willing to put my job on the line for the sake of this issue. I am standing up now – early in the debate – so that others will be emboldened to join me. I cannot – not on this issue – test the waters and see which way the winds are blowing.
“If it costs me my job – if I am not re-elected – I can live with that. But I cannot make myself very small and nibble at the edges. Not on this issue. Not now.”
Of course, it’s not just the desire to get re-elected that drives folks to play it safe. It’s the recognition that if they don’t play ball on some issues, they will not be able to accomplish other important objectives. We know that they have to engage in horse trading if they want to bring home grants for universities, earmarks for bridges, big projects for defense contractors in their districts, and so on.
But in this season of giving, when so many have lost so much, it would be particularly nice to be inspired by someone not afraid to lose. In the end, doing the right thing – even if it means losing – is the most important contribution anyone can make.
Ask anyone who has lost something of value, like a job. He or she will tell you: You will get over it.
And I mean that in the nicest possible way.