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Commentary: Please, no more scandal in 2009

  • Story Highlights
  • Donna Brazile: 2008 was a year of political scandal across the country
  • She says politicians forgot that their job is to serve the public, not themselves
  • A new year and new president offer opportunity for public officials, she says.
  • Brazile: Officials should resolve to serve all the people and practice ethics
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By Donna Brazile
CNN Contributor
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Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, is a political contributor for CNN. She also serves as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and founder of Brazile & Associates, a Washington-based political consulting firm. Brazile, the campaign manager for the Al Gore-Joe Lieberman ticket in 2000, wrote "Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics," a memoir about her life in politics.

Donna Brazile says public officials must realize their job is to serve the public, not themselves.

Donna Brazile says public officials must realize their job is to serve the public, not themselves.

(CNN) -- As poll after poll quantifies the public's immense admiration for Barack Obama as the incoming 44th president of the United States, other politicians, especially those elected to serve in the U.S. Congress, continue to yield approval numbers low enough to flash-freeze an elephant (or a donkey) in under a minute.

They have only themselves to blame.

Their troubles come against the backdrop of the seemingly endless scandals involving elected officials from across the nation and both sides of the political aisle, from New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer to Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to Idaho Sen. Larry Craig to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to U.S. Rep. Tim Mahoney of Florida, who only two short years ago was voted into office as a moral crusader to replace disgraced former Congressman Mark Foley.

But scandals alone did not drag down the honorable profession of governance. What makes "politician" a particularly dirty word today is the increasing number of elected public servants who make the public their servant and self-interest their master. Too many of our political leaders are there not to serve, but to be served. And that stinks.

As someone who has worked in government, I am disappointed in what passes for political leadership these days. It's time for the public to demand more transparency, better accountability and true public servants.

Most voters yearn for public officials who practice truth-telling on a daily basis, cultivate humility regarding their own wisdom and act always in the interest of the common good even if it helps their political opponents.

This coming new year could truly be a season of new politics, as President-elect Obama offered in his announcement speech almost two years ago.

What if politicians of all stripes, along with those who work for them, truly turned a new page? What would it look like? And would anyone be willing to risk their reputation by coming up with new rules of discourse and civility?

It is long past due that both political parties find a way to work around their core principles to come together to implement solutions that benefit the millions of Americans who are unemployed, underemployed or merely hanging on by the tips of their fingernails. And since the new economic stimulus being talked about in Washington will be costly, the public must remind Congress and others that it's our hard-earned dollars they are spending.

High energy costs, health insurance and credit card interest rates have gobbled up people's earnings for years. This year was the perfect storm in which these expenses reached their peaks together and helped push the economy over the edge.

It was government policy that allowed all this. It's time both major parties resolve to do what they were sent to do: serve the people.

If our political leaders would follow three simple rules for 2009 and beyond, they, too, might find a reversal of fortune by 2010 when many of them will be up for re-election.

1. Remember that you are elected to represent all your constituents: those who voted for you, against you and who didn't bother to vote. The ordinary citizen working every day for less pay and almost no benefits should be valued more highly than the lobbyists and corporate CEOs who filled your campaign coffers.

2. Promote ethics in public service. This should be simple enough. Thou shall abide by the laws of the land. Thou shall not do anything to shame your office or embarrass your family. Thou shall behave at all times as if a special prosecutor is building a case against you, or as if the words you often utter in private might some day make the national headlines.

3. Improve the nature and civility of political discourse. With a country in crisis, it's time to get beyond the petty recriminations of the past. Work together with your political opponents. We are one nation, one people. If you do something like Chip Saltsman, a candidate running for chairman of the Republican National Committee, have the good grace to be embarrassed and offer an apology when your Christmas message CD to members of your party includes a song called "Barack, the Magic Negro."

Will this be the year our political leaders strive to do better? Will they grab 2009 as the remarkable opportunity it is to think differently, act boldly and create something new without worrying about what party gets the credit?

For the first time in recent memory, adults and children of diverse backgrounds are inspired and hopeful about the future. They like the incoming president, and they want him to succeed. Before returning to Washington next week to be sworn in to serve in the 111th session of Congress, it's time those elected remember who they represent.

It's "we the people."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

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