Forget the ego and remember who you serve
Have you ever been in a politician's office? I have, and just about every one I've ever been in has the same thing: an "ego wall." The ego wall is where the politician hangs pictures of himself or herself beside other, more famous politicians. It...
Have you ever been in a politician's office?
I have, and just about every one I've ever been in has the same thing: an "ego wall."
The ego wall is where the politician hangs pictures of himself or herself beside other, more famous politicians. It is why, when a president flies into town, there are usually about 495 lesser politicians waiting on the tarmac. They want a picture for the ego wall.
Newly elected politicians don't usually have big ego walls yet. They just have pictures of themselves juxtaposed next to, say, Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama. No disrespect to either our current or former president. They are, or were, both great men in their own way. (By using "were," I am alluding to the fact Ronald Reagan is dead, not just the battering our current president took Nov. 2). But I can think of three other pictures every newly elected Wisconsin politician should hang on the ego wall instead:
No. 1: A picture of Edward Scofield's cow. Scofield was elected governor of Wisconsin in a Republican landslide in 1896 after running on a platform favoring prohibition of railroad passes for public officials. He quickly lost all credibility, however, when he brought his favorite cow with him from Oconto to his Madison inauguration on a free, express pass issued by a railroad that ran what qualified back then as a high-speed train.
(I was unable to deduce whether his predecessor in the governor's office shamelessly and secretly signed contracts committing taxpayers to high-speed trains on his way out the door, but never mind.)
The spectacle of a cow being treated better than the working man was a colossal political blunder. It made Scofield a laughingstock and made his cow almost as famous as he was. He apparently did some decent stuff, but it's the cow people remember.
No. 2: A picture of David D. King, who came within four points of ousting incumbent Doug La Follette on Nov. 2 and becoming secretary of state. King is a Milwaukee street preacher with all sorts of legal problems who reportedly calls himself Apostle David King. He also reportedly called Gov. Jim Doyle a "crackhead," which is almost as bad as some of the other things people have been calling our governor lately. King could easily have been elected, which just goes to show that, under the right circumstances, anyone could be.
No. 3: A picture of Richard Bong. Someone needs to remind our politicians that running for office isn't a sacrifice. What Richard Bong did is a sacrifice. Bong was a boy from Poplar who shot down 40 enemy planes during World War II, became America's "Ace of Aces," and was awarded the Medal of Honor at age 24.
He died in a plane crash shortly thereafter and is Wisconsin's greatest hero.
His picture should be the largest.
All three, though, are reminders of the same essential message every politician should be reminded of when they walk into their office. It's not about you, or your ego, particularly this year. It's mostly about your constituents being mad as hell at whatever knucklehead had the office before you.
Speaking of constituents, maybe put a picture of some of them up there as well, the ones who showed a little faith in you the other day. Show some in them. There aren't very many Richard Bongs in the world. But there are a lot of people worried about America's wasteful and egotistical ways and willing to make some modest sacrifices themselves. Be willing to ask them to do that, to give something up, or things in this country will never change.
If you can't do that, at least try to pay your own way to the Capitol - and make sure to get a ticket for whatever cows you bring along.
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com .