Dysfunction in Washington D.C. damages U.S. image abroad and morale at home

By Guest Columnist DARAKA SATCHER, partner and chief operating officer at Pendleton Consulting Group

I arrived in Washington, D.C. after graduating from Emory Law School in 1999 full of excitement and energy. I began working on Capitol Hill almost immediately and had a front row seat to history-in-the-making working for members of Congress like John Spratt, Harold Ford Jr, and Hank Johnson.

I was able to contribute to consequential legislative initiatives; I saw smoke rising from the direction of the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

And I watched a former state Senator, with a first name as unusual as mine, rise to the presidency in an extraordinarily short amount of time. That president, Barack Obama, allowed me the honor of working in his administration – ending my time in Washington D.C. on a professional high note.

Daraka Satcher

However, as I return to Atlanta, the bad taste that was in my mouth when I left Washington remains.

The tenor of the current debate in Washington can most easily be blamed on the rise of the Tea Party. Its rapid and inconceivable rise is comparable to the President’s. There is no doubt that some components of this movement are motivated by a strong partisan-based dislike of the current administration in Washington.

But there is also no doubt that many other substantive factors were the primary contributors to the Tea Party’s entry onto the political landscape — documented unwise overspending of taxpayer dollars and overall governmental largesse.

I believe the circumstances of the emergence of the Tea Party were less than ideal, but it can be, and arguably already has been, a net positive for this country (though I believe the local affiliate’s stance on the T-SPLOST is misguided). For example, every year, I watched the scramble for earmarked funds occur for projects as questionable as remodeling of the exterior of a restaurant in New York City.

There would always be a literal handful of members of Congress, like Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona, who would stand up and push back against this questionable practice. But it was generally accepted as the state of things amongst the vast majority of members – regardless of party.

The fact that much less of your money is going toward upgrading a teacup museum in North Carolina is a testament to the philosophy behind the Tea Party movement. However, this does not make excusable the tactics some Tea Partiers use to get their point across.

I cannot claim to know the President personally. However, that is not necessary to know that he is basically a good man who sincerely wants what is best for this country. I personally believe he has made his fair share of mistakes – such as the timing and method of consideration of his healthcare legislation and all of the political capital it used up. But this does not a radical Marxist, Islamic extremist Manchurian candidate make.

In fact, one can reasonably make the claim that, based on an objective view of his policies, he is not very far left of center on the political spectrum. I acknowledge that his choice of words often makes him appear more liberal than I am claiming he is. But a politician’s policies speak for his or her true political mentality; the words generally reflect what he or she thinks is necessary to win the next election.

The dysfunction in Washington that all of this has led to is demoralizing and damaging to the image of the United States abroad and our productivity within.

I’m aware that now is a popular time to demonize corporate executives, but, for better or worse, their mentality and the decisions they make can be the difference between high and low unemployment – the real, core issue at hand. They have made clear that the taint of dysfunction – even more so than the policies – is affecting how they plan to do business in this country.

But above and beyond the practical implications, the majority of my professional life was based within federal government institutions, and I am embarrassed by what they have devolved into.

It was never my intent to be a lifelong government employee but the current state of affairs has made my exit easier. We, as Americans, have something to prove; not only to ourselves but to the world and emerging countries in particular.

As these countries refine their governmental systems and compare the perceived efficiency of the Chinese system to the perceived and actual current inefficiency of the American system, they will begin making decisions that will set the tone of how people are governed worldwide for the foreseeable future.

I wish I had the answers to these questions that arise from my words. I don’t, but I look forward to exploring viable options – far outside of the vaunted Beltway.

Before becoming COO of Pendleton Consulting Group, Daraka was formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce and Chief of Staff in the Office of U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia.

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