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Robert Goodwin

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.

August recess a chance to listen

Q: With the economy slowing again, scores of nominations awaiting confirmation and major issues such a climate change and immigration unresolved, Congress has left town for its traditional 6-week August recess. Is that smart leadership? At what point should leaders upset well-established routines to signal that business-as-usual is no longer acceptable?

In our representative democracy, it's important that elected leaders in Congress know precisely who and what they are representing in Washington, D.C. Traditionally, the August recess is what that's all about. It's a chance for Senators and Representatives to reconnect with the electorate and gain invaluable insights into how pivotal policy decisions impact Americans' day-to-day lives. As a robust understanding of constituent concerns is essential to strong leadership, I have no problem with Congress heading home in August - and especially during an election season that demands citizens be as well-informed as those they've chosen to lead.

Of course, once the recess is over, it's incumbent upon Members of the House and Senate to lead - at least in part - based on what they learn from talking to people back home. So far, it appears that public outcry continues to fall on deaf ears, and both parties are to blame. Democrats tend to see government intervention as the answer, and most Republicans see the private sector as the key. The truth is that it takes both parties working in partnership to create conditions for success - and, to date, there have been few examples of the bipartisanship that progress demands.

Last August, Members from across the country watched the public rise against the Administration's plans for healthcare reform, but they didn't act on those concerns. As a result, an increasing number of voters now feel that their voices aren't being heard - and one needs to look no further than Congress' dismal approval ratings for proof of that. If Members of Congress really want to send the message that business as usual is a thing of the past, the answer lies not in D.C., but in getting out into the world they govern and allowing it to have a real influence on their work. After all, isn't that what representative democracy is really all about?

By Robert Goodwin

 |  August 19, 2010; 1:56 PM ET
Category:  Congressional leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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