Humility and public service must go together.
Humility in politics? I know this sounds like an oxymoron. Yet, I believe that is what was modeled by Abraham Lincoln, Everett Dirksen, Bob Michel and Ray LaHood in serving as congressmen for the 18th District and throughout their distinguished public service careers. And, unfortunately, that is where Congressman Aaron Schock eventually failed.
Serving with Integrity
In speaking to my Ethical Leadership class at Bradley University this April, Ray LaHood said, “It is important for public service leaders to remember where they came from and the people they were elected to serve.” Indeed, during the entire 10 years I had the privilege of working as his district chief of staff, Ray LaHood drove himself around the sprawling congressional district, pumped his own gas, and did not request one cent of mileage reimbursement. Even when he became the 16th U.S. Secretary of Transportation in President Obama’s cabinet, Ray LaHood remained down to earth. He would immediately return phone calls or texts, detested having a security detail assigned to him, and always came back to Peoria to help with charity events or speaking engagements. Ray LaHood never forgot where he came from or lost gratitude to the citizens of central Illinois who gave him wonderful opportunities to serve our area and our great nation.
My first encounter with Bob Michel as a congressional intern was him bustling into the office early one morning looking for a three-cent stamp to put on a piece of outgoing congressional mail. He and I searched through desk drawers until he finally found such a stamp. Bob Michel did not want to waste one more cent of taxpayer money than was absolutely necessary. He knew it was our money, and he treated it with the utmost in respect. Even though he eventually became the longest-standing U.S. House minority leader in American history (14 years), Bob Michel always considered himself the luckiest guy in the world to be given such an incredible job. “Gee whiz, this is one wingdinger of an event!” he would exclaim as he took a picture of the Reagans at a White House picnic, acting more like a tourist than the Republican leader in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In announcing his intention to seek re-election to Congress in 1987, Bob Michel stated, “Public service is serving the nation and the people you represent as best you can with honesty and integrity. We have followed that formula during our public life. It has been fulfilling for me, and I believe it has been beneficial to the people of the 18th Congressional District.”
Staying the Ethical Path
A key aspect of humility is realizing you do not have all the answers—that you need to surround yourself with a quality staff that will positively challenge you. As president, Lincoln chose cabinet members who were former political adversaries because he knew they had certain strengths and skills that would strengthen the nation. When his Secretary of War called him a damn fool, Lincoln responded: “If Stanton said I was a damn fool, then I must be one, for he is nearly always right and generally says what he means.” Leaders need to surround themselves with staff that will help them stay on an ethical path.
In giving remarks at a congressional memorial, Everett Dirksen stated, “Suppose we made a diligent effort to exemplify the humility and meekness and forbearance which marked their [public] service, what a great moral force it would become in softening the dissidences of life…”
I was one of the first to encourage Aaron Schock to run for Congress. So it is with deep sadness and disappointment that I write this article. Many of us saw an intelligent, articulate, hard-working young man with incredible potential. And he rose fast in the national political scene, becoming a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, raising millions of dollars for the Republican Party and congressional candidates, and becoming part of the House leadership team.
Over the last two months, we have all read the stories and newscasts about the highly irregular expenditures of taxpayer and campaign donor money for office decorations, travel and mileage reimbursement. Now the matter is in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department. In the end, Aaron Schock lost sight of where he came from and the people he was elected to serve. Humility and public service must go together. iBi