I’ve known Colorado’s newest member of Congress, Jason Crow, since he helped in my own quixotic run for the House in 2008. I know that he is a very smart, very kind, and very capable gent, who will do a wonderful job for the good people of House District 6. I was pleased to support him from afar and I’m delighted he was elected. As I type these words, it is just passing noon in the East on Jan. 3, and Jason is being sworn into office. Our regularly scheduled revolution, an ongoing gift of the founders, in the form of free and fair (mostly) elections, has taken place, power has been transferred, and a new government is safely in place. I’m so happy for Jason.
Especially after I saw the new sign.
I admit, when I saw the simple brass lettering indicating Jason’s new office, I was proud of my friend and, I admit, a bit envious of him for actually winning his election. Must be fun. And looking upon that sign I was struck with another thought that I think is very important for the people of Colorado and the nation to keep in mind. We just elected people to office.
Yes, people. Not robots and not heartless pols, not good or evil wizards, and not immortals. All too often, we forget that those we elect to high and low office are, in fact, people. I know that is not exactly Earth-shattering news, but it is an important caveat to keep in mind. I know Jason, and I know he’s a good guy. The man he beat, Mike Coffman, was also a good guy, with whom I disagreed. But there is a danger to liberty when we forget these people are, well, people, with the same flaws and strengths as your doctor, your neighbor down the street, and the person reading this epistle.
All too often, we don’t want to think of our leaders as humans, capable of great things and stupid mistakes. We tend to glorify those we elect (as long as we agree with them) and make them seem a bit better than regular folks. That gives us comfort, as we don’t really want to think of people in high office as, well, human, because that scares us. We don’t want to know that the president (pick Obama or Trump, based on your partisanship) can wake up grumpy and might make a bad decision, a decision upon which lives might rest. We don’t want to think of such leaders as being capable of petty and child-like behavior, so we tend to aggrandize them to make our own night’s sleep more restful. But that’s a mistake. And we forget this at our peril.
It is always in our best interests to remember the humanity of our leaders. Too many on the left and far too many on the right have made Presidents Obama and Trump into demigods, as we have largely done with our nation’s founders. The greatest American of all, George Washington, is considered by many as more pure than the driven snow, yet in his time he was called “a gambler, a cheapskate, a horsebeater, a dictator, and a most horrid swearer and blasphemer.” With all due respect to Mr. Washington, it is a good thing to keep our leaders' humanity in mind, though I doubt that he was much of a gambler. The swearing? He did cuss a lot. And to me, that makes him more human, not less, and I respect him even more. Alexander Hamilton, a gent I’ve studied rather closely for the past 25 years or so, was called “vain, indiscrete, and opinionated.” Those words came from his closest friend; you can imagine what his enemies said.
My cumbersome point is that we should remember always the humanity of those we elect. That humanity will help us understand the things we like about them and what we disdain. Such awareness will help inform us, the electorate, of what is important to our state and our nation, and what is mere fluff. The founders argued that democracy is only safe when the people are engaged, educated, and impassioned. That means we respect the respectable, but also that we condemn that which is without merit, especially when a member or a senator is working on our behalf.
I’m very happy for my friend Jason Crow, though now I’ll call him “Congressman Crow” out of respect. But that respect must always be earned, and we must remember the humanity of all those who represent us.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.