"We can't leave our troops on the beach."
Ilario Pantano, a former sniper, sat in my office, rolling his shirtsleeve back down after showing me the United States Marine Corps tattoo on his arm. He wasn't showing off. He was making a point. "If my country is worth dying for, it's worth fighting for." Which is what brought him to Washington.
He's put his life on the line in the Marines, and now the North Carolina resident is in the embryonic stages of his second run for Congress. Last year, he fared reasonably well in a district that's been voting Democrat since the Reconstruction. The problems that called him to duty on the campaign trail have not gone away, and the people who had faith in him still deserve an alternative to their current representation. So Pantano feels like he owes them a second try. And with his national-security and economics experience available during a critical time in our history, he owes his country another effort, too.
The tea-party movement, the conservative constituents of his district who got engaged and have, in many cases, stayed engaged, are the troops Pantano was referring to; the folks he refuses to leave stranded.
But there are also troops in Washington D.C., and they need not only support on the home front, but reinforcements as well.
Pantano represents the reinforcements. Because the guys who want to change the way Washington works; to put the federal government on a life-saving diet; to get government regulation out of the way of the American family; to protect the consciences of Americans who don't want their money going near abortions ... they need more votes in Washington.
"I think there was a bit of a grace period granted the GOP leaders in D.C. But patience is wearing thin," Teri Christoph, co-founder of Smart Girl Politics, a cyber-tea-party hub, tells me. "We are looking for accountability from our leaders, regardless of party, and if we don't get it, we'll make our voices heard. ... All it takes is inaction in Washington and we'll be seeing a marked uptick in conservative activism."
That impatience manifested itself during a "Continuing Revolution" rally held on Capitol Hill on the last day of March. But, that impatience, too, can be heard in the voice of the Speaker of the House. When you insist the Senate "pass the damn thing" -- fund the federal government in a responsible manner -- you don't exactly sound like a Washington Brahmin hobnobbing at the country club.
"Baby boomers, my generation, we've created a pretty big mess. We've made promises to ourselves that our kids and grandkids simply cannot afford. To most politicians, it's easier just to keep kicking the can down the road or create some toothless commission. If those in charge won't step up and offer the serious solutions to fix entitlement programs, we need leaders who will."
That was John Boehner speaking more than a year ago now. He also said, in the same speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee, "I can tell you that a Republican Congress is not going to change the world in two years. We won't. We can't. But we can stop the Pelosi-Obama agenda and we can do it quickly. And what we can do is to continue to offer better solutions to the American people to get our country back on track once again."
Expectations are high. That's a wonderful blessing. It keeps us working harder and wanting more. But, as frustrating as it is, even as we want as much change as we can get immediately, there are certain realities to Washington. The Speaker of the House cannot unilaterally make the will of the House law. He needs more votes in Washington. He needs a willing Senate, knowing the current president isn't going to play ball. That's not to make excuses or open a path for complacency -- it's a call to action.
At the same time as the "Continuing Revolution" rally, at least one congressman was on his knees in prayer at a Capitol Hill church. Pro-life activists were continuing their Lenten 40 Days for Life campaign. Praying for courage and prudence and sustenance is not a partisan prayer, but it's a necessary one in the face of the mess that's so distressed Boehner and his fellow warriors. Our hearts will be restless. They should be. They will keep us working harder and inspire us to be better and braver.
"(W)e frequently hear it remarked that the privilege of freedom has to be re-won once in every generation -- or, say, three or four times a century," the contemporary philosopher Yves Simon wrote. "Even that is too much optimism. Freedom is impregnably assured only by an effort to conquer it which is renewed every day."
We see that happening -- maybe -- on the streets of many Arab nations, some of which our media and White House have chosen to support and others they haven't as much. But we see that, too, in the impatience of many Americans who became engaged in this last election and have stayed engaged since. They have more allies in Congress now, people they sent to Washington. And it's important to give these freshman politicians support, by not expecting the impossible, and by making sure they have reinforcements. Such as Pantano in the House and yet more troops in the Senate, and hope for change on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.