Last week, our two children started back to school. The prep work included buying new backpacks, books and school supplies, along with a few new clothes. Binders were labeled and organized, new textbooks were bought and thumbed through, and, for our daughter Maggie, the first day's outfit was carefully thought through and laid out the night before. Schedules were printed and reviewed. They were ready to get back to work.
They were ready for a new year, a fresh start.
As they walked out our door the first morning, my husband Jimmy and I reminded them that first impressions matter and to make sure that they made good ones. To listen, to pay attention and to learn.
As the daughter of two teachers, my life has revolved for decades around the academic calendar. First theirs, then mine, now my children's. Fall for me is not just when leaves fall and the air is crisp, but also when there is the hint of possibility and potential that a new school year brings. It's the chance to learn, to change, to grow and to finish the year a bit smarter and more accomplished than when you started.
Oh, how I miss those relatively easy days. When a teacher's syllabus was handed out on the first day, and the grading system was laid out in black and white.
Real life is not so easy. There are often no clear delineations between years or even projects. How do people know if they are making progress? For politicians, the way to keep track is by winning elections, and in off years, looking at approval ratings.
According to a poll conducted this month by Gallup, for every person who approves of Congress, nearly six times as many disapprove. Just imagine if 14 percent of your clients approved of your work and 81 percent disapproved -- what would that mean for you? Probably a hard look in the mirror and a plan of action to reach out to your clients, to listen, to plan and to accomplish shared objectives.
President Barack Obama's approval rating for August, according to Gallup, was down 3 points to 44 percent. "The economy carries the greatest weight of nine key issues in determining how Americans rate President Barack Obama overall," Gallup noted. "Americans who approve of the job Obama is doing on the economy are six times more likely to approve of Obama's overall performance than those who disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy."
This key finding points to a potential weakness and an opportunity for his opponents. His "approval rating for handling the economy is 35 percent," one of the areas that he is weakest. Obama scored lowest of the nine on the federal budget deficit (26 percent approval).
So this month, while in recess, Congress has an opportunity to regroup and get ready for a new year.
Legislators return in September, and while they can't create a new first impression, they can outline a fresh start, and convey an aura of optimism and possibility.
The House Republicans have a great opportunity, but they must not overplay their hand. Their focus should be on working for the American people, making progress, taking action. While the hot topics will be the budget, debt ceiling and immigration, the overall focus should be on how to make Washington work for everyday Americans. The focus has to be tied back to a vision -- a vision of a brighter future, one in which all Americans can participate.
It's not enough to oppose the president and his agenda. House Republicans should cheerfully and relentlessly promote a positive vision for the future, outlining how the House Republicans can help get us there. The vision needs to be grand enough to incorporate smaller legislative conflicts into a larger understanding of where we can go -- when we work together.
In the end, the American people want a government that works for them, that gets things done and projects an aura of possibility and potential. Let's hope it passes the test.