- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

One of my children’s favorite bedtime stories was “The Little Red Hen.” The simple tale follows the hen as she prepares a loaf of bread. At each step of the process, she asks for help from barnyard friends, but her pleas consistently are met with excuses from those who always have reasons for not helping. In the end, however, all try to partake in the reward - eating the bread - at which point, the heroine rebuffs the lazy lot with, “Oh, no you won’t! You wouldn’t help me sow the seed, harvest the wheat, thresh the grain, or bake the bread. So now you won’t help me eat the bread.” Harsh? Perhaps in some situations, but in this context, the moral is clear: Those who don’t do their fair share when they are able should not expect to reap the rewards that effort brings.

I was reminded of this tale recently as I thought how our elected representatives often ignore the pleas of their constituents - those who put them in office, pay their salaries and expect accountability - only to return to the table every few years thinking they’re entitled to re-election.

Examples are plentiful, but I’ll stay close to home in south Texas’ 23rd Congressional District. Our incumbent congressman, who has been in and out of office over the past 13 years, should understand this well. Yet, if his record is any indication, he needs to return to the folk tale for practical application.

The 23rd is no hotbed of liberalism. The district, with its sizable active-duty and retired military, predominantly Hispanic and overwhelmingly Catholic-Baptist constituency, is moderate to conservative on most political and social issues. So how can a representative profess fiscal restraint while voting for every bailout since January 2009? Or support a congressional pay raise during a recession? Or embrace a redefinition of marriage? Or stridently support all forms of abortion to earn NARAL Pro-Choice America’s highest rating? Or, according to watchdog groups, amass a mixed record on free trade, government reform and gun ownership? Few would recognize wholesale similarities between voters of San Antonio and San Francisco, yet amazingly, my representative and the House speaker vote similarly 92 percent of the time.

Our “stealth” congressman has been barely visible to constituents for the past year (which perhaps is understandable after such votes). Several events have been canceled without notice, or the representative has sent a representative. Yet that doesn’t stop an increasing number of glossy fliers from “Congress of the United States,” always featuring a smiling incumbent and touting what Congress has done. As colorful as they are vague on the details, the fliers brag of a record of engagement on various issues. Not that all of these stands are disagreeable to many of the congressman’s constituents, but can anyone argue that these mass mailings weeks before a critical election are anything more than campaign ads? Yet all bear the line, “This mailing was prepared, published and mailed at taxpayer expense.” Perhaps, according to the rules of the House, such mailings are business as usual, but no honest-thinking American is fooled. They are little more than subsidized campaign ads giving unfair advantage to the incumbent. Perhaps the practice does not reach the same level of illegal or unethical behavior of others in the news, but for most Americans who earn honest livings to pay their and Washington’s bills, ethical and moral behavior doesn’t come in shades of gray. If the average citizen recognizes his responsibility, surely the ones we elect to represent us have an even greater responsibility to set an example rather than operate on their own agendas until they need our votes.

In many ways, the 23rd District is no different from many others. With only weeks until the election, we can expect to see even more barnyard behavior: elected officials of both parties returning home to brag of grand accomplishments and expecting us to listen to how they’ve been faithful in representing our interests.

What will be more telling will be when we ask with the seriousness of the Little Red Hen, “Who has helped me curb Washington’s voracious appetite for spending, supported lower taxes to spur economic growth, pushed for common-sense health care reform that the public would support, secured the borders and the rule of law, supported morality that history proves is the bedrock of society, and stood up against the slide of the United States into irrelevancy on the international scene?”

“Not I,” responded those elected, an answer borne out not by their voices but through their votes.

“Then you will not receive my vote!” said the voters.

Perhaps those bedtime stories tell a moral tale that, after Election Day, even a congressman can understand.

John M. Bell is a retired military officer and member of the San Antonio Tea Party Board of Directors.

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