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Elizabeth Sherman
Scholar

Elizabeth Sherman

Assistant professor of American Politics at American University; founder and former director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Congress doesn't need more time at 'government HQ'

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?

Just as CEOs need to break out of the isolation of corporate headquarters and solicit personal feedback from those working in far-flung operations, sales and service centers, likewise members of Congress benefit from routine "listening tours" around their states and districts to grasp first-hand the needs and concerns of their constituents.

Let's not forget that the American constitutional system was intentionally established on the basis of geographic, not ideological, representation. Obviously, this affords more opportunities for autonomous, home-oriented leadership than parliamentary systems built on loyalty to party leaders and policy platforms. Unfortunately, today signs point to a dangerous tendency to reconfigure our form of representative democracy into a parliamentary straitjacket with Democrats and Republicans expected to tow the line or risk repudiation for undermining party unity. Spending more time at "government headquarters" runs contrary to what the founders intended to ensure deep knowledge of and vigorous representation for local and regional interests.

A nation of such enormous size and diversity of perspectives, economies and problems requires that members of Congress be highly attuned to the voices and moods of those they represent and bring those viewpoints to bear on policy deliberations. Being able to resist the lockstep party uniformity that threatens to crush creativity and destroy possibilities for legislative compromise is more likely when the unique circumstances and goals of local communities are well-known and taken to heart. Besides, even our much-vilified government officials deserve a break from the Washington pressure cooker. We all benefit when our leaders spend quality time with family and friends, and hang out the Gone Fishin' sign now and then.

The long slog through the increasingly tough political thicket in Congress requires representatives and senators who are well rested, refreshed and renewed and thereby better able to face with equanimity the difficult challenges of the months and years ahead.

By Elizabeth Sherman

 |  August 16, 2010; 2:14 PM ET
Category:  Congressional leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Hurd shouldn't get a golden parachute | Next: Recess not only 'thoughtless' but 'irresponsible'

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