Listen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home

Stefani Reynolds

One of this year’s new members of Congress made a headline-grabbing splash just three days into her job when she called for the president’s impeachment at a rally using the F-word. It’s not unusual for a political newcomer to grab headlines with a controversial comment or highly critical statement about an opponent. A few others have done the same, with another newly elected representative calling the president a racist.

The question is: will the militant tactics of some of our newly elected members of Congress, the most diverse in history, get results in Washington? Or will these tactics backfire, leaving the representatives and their agendas out in the cold?

{mosads}Let’s hope the other Congressional newbies will listen and learn. Ultimately more successful rookies in Congress will observe for a while as they learn the ropes and figure out who will be their allies and who won’t. They should avoid making audacious statements for media attention early on. Rhetoric is cheap; it takes hard work and bipartisan alliances to actually get results. And, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

The new members in Congress will ultimately get noticed more for being well-informed, working well with others and sponsoring or co-sponsoring legislation with members of the opposing party than by holding extremist views or spewing venom at opponents. Most Americans respect those who work diligently, form reasoned opinions, listen to their constituents, and seek compromise.

Here are 6 tips for this year’s crop of first timers in Congress:

  1. Make friends, not enemies. Focus more on consensus-building and being a friend than being a firebrand. Call or meet with members of Congress outside your usual circle and from the opposing party to learn their positions and seek common ground. Don’t be a closed-minded lawmaker who works only with those who already agree with you. Develop bipartisan relationships and alliances and forgo attacks on opponents. In politics, business, the military and life in general, friends are better than enemies. Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) are examples of leaders skilled at forging bipartisan alliances while not compromising their principles. Relationships and alliances can last for many years and go a long way toward getting your goals accomplished.
  1. Respect your office, position and the traditions that surround it. Being a member of Congress is not an ego-trip. It’s your job to work for the American people. Put the nation and its people first.
  1. Know that a good idea is a good idea, no matter whose idea it is. Accept and support good ideas that make the government work better for the people even if they come from members of the opposing party.
  1. Before making policy statements, talking about international affairs or proposing legislation, learn the background, customs, culture, history and current political climate of the issue, nation or region affected. Read and learn from all perspectives. Talk to a wide range of others who are experts and well-versed about the issue at hand.
  1. Be humble, modest and civil. Avoid making childish and insulting comments. Don’t stoop to the level of others who bully and hurl insults; rise above it.
  1. Finally, play hard but always play clean. A win isn’t really a win if you cheated, lied or stepped on others to get ahead. Eventually, no one will play with you if you play dirty. It’s easy to earn a bad reputation but hard to shed it.

Good governance requires compromise; it always has and always will. As the late President John Fitzgerald Kennedy put it in his Inaugural Address in 1961, “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

Ritch K. Eich, former chief of public affairs for Blue Shield of California, has published fours books on leadership. A retired captain in the naval reserve, he served on Congressional committees for Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Dan Coats of Indiana. He holds a Ph.D from the University of Michigan.

Tags Barbara Mikulski Carl Levin Dan Coats John McCain

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