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Perspective- An Inaugural Perspective

Perspective: Culture January 25, 2003

Printable Version

Having just attended the Texas Inaugural festivities, I cannot help butponder the legislative scene in early June as the session reaches completion.Without doubt, the 2003 Texas Inauguration was one of the best events of itstype that I attended. Not only was there unusual cordiality but the speeches ofthe Governor and Lt. Governor were thoughtful and sincere, and the SpeakersĄ¯goals quite laudatory. The great concern of all was the budget deficits, but inreality there was limited focus upon perhaps the most significant issue thatfaced not only the legislature, but also the state. The finances of the state inthe short term are unquestionably problematic, and in all likelihood will becomeworse rather than better as with the case of a trend. But a point ofsignificance is that all values presently are simply a reflection of presentvalue accounting of how we look to the future. This is true not only of WallStreet and its stock, but it is true of the cultural and political environmentin which we exist.

There is a very dramatic relationship between the culture of a society andits government. If the culture is such that the private sector and theindividual are strong, then government is fairly limited because the peopledetermine most of the major issues before they are forced into governmentalsolution. You do not sue immediately as a victim if the society valuesindividual responsibility. In Texas there is a can do attitude that may bebrutally free enterprise, but at the same time rests heavily on individualresponsibility. The most recent election has focused on personalities and a fewbroad themes but a limited depth of ideas. The Legislative Process will forcevery significant detail to the themes. How the legislature goes about itsbusiness, its sense of process is going to be a significant question. For thefirst time in many years the Republicans control almost all major levers ofpower. The culture that they establish in how business is done, how ideas areaccepted, and how the process functions will make a great deal of difference tothe long-term values within the state. Similarly, how the Democratic minorityadjusts to the weakness of loss of power plays an important point in the optionsof the majority. Just like in a corporation, you can have a thousand pages ofethics rules but it is the corporate culture of the leadership that sets thestandards. As Marcus Aurelius noted, men should be upright, not be kept upright.It is not that ethics should be forced upon people but that they should have itfrom within as a value. Government and higher levels of politics provide majorchallenges to this concept of conscience versus convenience, which definescharacter and is implemented by individual responsibility. Traditionallyconscience, because of the Golden Rule, works well between individuals but athigher levels of power, because of the interaction of ambition, higher economicself-interest, competition, and other allies of convenience, conveniencedominates. The only way to put conscience into power is to make it convenient byadopting a culture that recognizes its values and rewards its proponents. Thatis particularly difficult in times of negative politics and superficial issues.However, convenience has a short-term advantage because it allows its proponentsto absolve themselves of many ethical issues, but it does not make for thestrongest of alliances and long-term friendships. Ideas unify people ofconscience where they trust their faith in concept and thereby make alliancesthat often provide the strength that overcomes convenience. But this is based onthe acceptance and openness of ideas, not of brute power or force. It requires aleadership based on principle with recognition of the importance that conscienceplays in developing the character of an institution and the culture that trainsthe habits of its participants. This, more than even the budget deficit, is thegreatest problem that will face the leadership as they try to design a new era.Power is like the stone that strikes the surface of the lake. It has great powerthere, but it also has influence on the rest of the lake through the ripples itsends. Even if you use power negatively for what you perceive a noble end, youstill may influence the culture by making convenience the style that dominatesconscience.

As I visited at the different receptions, I met with many old friends of bothparties and of different political persuasion. Though oftentimes there arehatreds between them on individual issues, most of them are good men. Thedifference that I hope emerges as the determination of success is not whetherthey are Republican or Democrat, whether they are conservative or liberal,whether they favor rich or poor, but whether they operate by conscience as theysee it, and plan for the next generation, as well as the public good in theconcern for others, or whether they conveniently look to the issues that havethe greatest personal impact for themselves. Few governments have good recordsof the people being the key focus of government. The great Roman succession fromNerva to Marcus Aurelius showed the success such focus could have, but it hasbeen difficult to achieve as our systems have evolved from monarchy to democracywith ever growing partisanship.

We could begin to believe, as Machiavelli and Hobbs did that men areinherently evil and follow concepts similar to the Asian concept of The Scienceof the Thick and the Black (thick skinned, black hearted), or we can hope thatwe could look upon man as being one that is idealist and capable of learninggood in the realm of Aristotle, Christ, and Confucius. In all likelihood, thescenario will be somewhere between as has traditionally been the case.

The problem, however, is that society and civilizations donĄ¯t particularlyseem to be moving forward in the sense of the issues of conscience versusconvenience. If you look at the rise of the entertainment anti-hero, corporatecorruption, and partisan bickering within the political process, we are nolonger focused upon the common good in how we can work together. If we do notgrow a pie where each slice gets larger and constantly fight at division, thepie shrinks, and we inevitably all suffer. The great problem is that Texas isone of the last great cultures to exist with a set of values that has not beenreplaced by a set of very changeable ideas. That is what is recognizedinternationally about us as a state. The legislature in making these rules thatset the concepts of our society are the guardians, in part, of the future, aswell as setting an example of the nature of leadership and its culture. They canlook to cutting budgets, but they ought to be reshaping the concept of howlegislative business is done in a new century. That requires a very carefulthought of how the future is to be viewed and how many of the forces fittogether. Higher taxes are a problem; diminished services are as well. Will thechoices be superficial on party lines and arguments or will wisdom be soughtfrom the knowledge of many positions? A bi-partisan approach accomplishes muchmore than partisan fault finding. I fear it will in all likelihood be highlypartisan because most will look to consultants and their base for the nextelection. The choices made, when analyzed, will likely not be the optimum fornow or in the future which needs to be seriously considered. The public needs tochange its focus as to how it judges leaders and what it values. We get thegovernment we select and deserve. The media, rather than observers and pundits,need to assume a responsibility for a depth of perspective. Thought at thebeginning of the session as to how to affect the culture of the process at theend would be well spent. Sooner, but probably later, partisanship will have aserious cost to politicians and the state because like central planning versusfree markets, the best solutions do not emerge. Machiavelli received great anddeserved credit for the insights of The Prince, but it was written after beingin jail to please the Medici who ruled for centuries. My question has alwaysbeen, what was it the Medici knew? In effect, one of their fundamentalobservations as expressed by Giovanni Medici was to watch the people, by theiraction or inaction, they eventually decide. It is the culture we will accept asa society that determines our leaders and our process.

Perhaps the best way we could affect change would be to work through themedia and state leadership to give an award to those who understood the languageof conscience best and let each party vote upon those that most representedconscience within its party and those who most represented conscience in theopposing party. It would be interesting to see who the recipient might be of thecombined vote and the individual ones. To change the culture we have to changewhat we value. If we want leaders to look to finding non-partisan solutions, weneed to reward it not have partisan power punish it. There are those who docare, and they are best known to the members themselves.


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