Enthusiasm

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

7/19/2012 12:01:00 AM - Jackie Gingrich Cushman

When I think of the word enthusiasm, I am reminded of a scene out of the 1987 movie "The Untouchables" about gangster Al Capone. In the scene, Capone (played by Robert De Niro) is walking around a table that is surrounded by his men. As he walks, he talks.

"Enthusiasms, enthusiasms ... What are mine?" he asks. "What draws my admiration? What is that which gives me joy? Baseball! A man stands alone at the plate. This is the time for what? For individual achievement. There he stands alone. But in the field, what? Part of a team. Teamwork ... Looks, throws, catches, hustles. Part of one big team." Capone is walking around the table with a baseball bat in one hand, swinging it and hitting his other hand as he walks and talks.

He continues about individual achievement. "Bats himself the live-long day, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and so on. If his team don't field ... what is he? You follow me? No one. Sunny day, the stands are full of fans. What does he have to say? I'm goin' out there for myself. But ... I get nowhere unless the team wins."

At this point in the scene, Capone swings the bat and hits the head of one of his men, and kills him.

This scene is memorable because the violence is sudden and shocking.

The juxtaposition between talking about an all-American pastime and killing a person in cold blood is jarring.

Capone's message of teamwork, though delivered in a gruesome way, is worth thinking about.

While it's important to perform well on an individual basis, in the end we get nowhere unless the team, our team, wins.

But in politics, it's necessary to do more than win. To govern, the teams on the winning and losing sides must work together.

Our government was constructed so that its three branches would have to work together: executive (president), legislative (Congress), and judicial (Supreme Court). For most day-to-day operating activities, the Congress initiates bills, and if they are passed by both houses (Senate and House of Representatives), the president can sign them into law or veto them.

Of the two teams, the Democratic Party currently holds the power in the Senate and the presidency. The Republican Party currently holds the power in the House of Representatives.

Our Constitution clearly specifies that all appropriations bills (money, budget) must begin in the House of Representatives. In a working system, the House would pass its version of the budget and the Senate would pass its version. Then there would be reconciliation between the two versions in conference. The final bill would make its way to the desk of the president.

Alas, we do not currently have a working system.

While the House of Representatives has continued to pass budgets, the Senate has not passed a budget since April 29, 2009 -- 1,177 days ago.

I used to work in corporate planning. I have no doubt that I would have been fired -- for incompetence -- if I had allowed more than three years to elapse without a budget.

Yet our government continues to spend ever-increasing amounts of money and to put each and every one of us more and more in debt -- and few of the people responsible have gotten fired.

On April 29, 2009, the federal debt was $11.2 trillion. Today, our debt is $15.9 trillion.

Given these dismal figures, one might understand that the voters would disapprove of the job Congress is doing. But what is interesting is that the disapproval rates for Republicans (who are passing the budget) are higher than for Democrats (who have not passed a budget in more than three years).

A Quinnipiac poll this month revealed that 68 percent disapprove of Republicans in Congress, compared with 62 percent disapproval of Democrats; while 24 percent approve of Republicans and 29 percent approve of Democrats. (Quinnipiac University surveyed 2,722 registered voters from July 1-8, margin of error of plus-or-minus 1.9 percentage points.)

For Republicans to retain the House, and win the Senate and the presidency this fall, they must remember that teamwork is important.

They might think they are winning the policy game, but the poll shows that they are losing in the area of public relations and public opinion. To be the team that is competent in process, but with a higher disapproval rating than the one whose members are blocking the process, underscores how ineffective Republicans have been at communicating reality.

I'm not suggesting that the Republicans would be better off bashing a few heads, but they do need an enthusiastic team, one whose members can communicate to the voters. Should be an interesting fall.