As I joined a meeting of engaged citizens at the Rotary Club in Plattsmouth this week, I noted the traditional "four-way test" of the club. The idea is to remind club members of the higher purpose that should guide the things we think, say or do. I half-jokingly remarked that we would all be well served to have the test posted throughout the halls of Congress. It goes like this:
1. Is it the TRUTH?
2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
It was refreshing to spend time with Nebraskans this week after a series of weeks in Washington, in spite of the unexpected snow in my yard. It's particularly uplifting to engage with Nebraskans who embrace their responsibility, strive for excellence, and work collaboratively -- in many cases motivated by purposes larger than their own personal interest. In the process, these citizens are building strong families and strong communities, and making our state an ever better place to live.
This week, I visited a Lincoln manufacturer with a global presence that produces complex electrical components with extraordinary efficiency and impressive employee loyalty. Employees work hard and are justly rewarded for their labor. The business, in turn, contributes greatly to the strength of our local and regional economy. At the invitation of a Waverly High School administrator who was recently recognized in Washington as "Assistant Principal of the Year," I spoke to inquisitive and thoughtful government students preparing to take on the next chapters of life. Their first questions centered on our high level of national debt. I also attended the Arbor Day Foundation gathering in Nebraska City. Their work presents an extraordinary example of environmental stewardship. Former First District Congressman Doug Bereuter will soon assume the helm of this organization's board.
A number of Nebraskans have expressed weariness about the acrimonious nature of national politics and policy. The question arises: Should we engage with close attention and energy to Washington or invest our energy elsewhere? My answer is yes.
On one hand, we in Nebraska must continue to recognize that Washington cannot solve all problems. We instinctively know that those closest to a particular challenge or opportunity are in the best position to address the challenge or seize the opportunity. Our federal government simply cannot be put in the position of involving itself in those things that are best addressed locally.
On the other hand, we as Nebraskans can't fully pull back from the national debate because we have something powerful to offer America by way of example. I've talked about it before -- the "Nebraska model" of hard work, personal responsibility, and neighbor helping neighbor -- borne of our agricultural heritage and manifested in our state's strong fiscal position, high quality of life, and responsible and accountable governance. Our culture has set us apart and positioned us as an example for others. Numerous national surveys showing Nebraska topping lists of "happiest" places, best places for jobs and starting businesses, and best places to raise families have sparked the interest and attention of others.
And as they should, our state and local governments are reflective of our culture, not the other way around. We balance the budget, we conduct business out in the open, and we work together to get the job done, sacrificing personal interest for the good of the whole.
While it is clear that things are not operating this way in Washington, it's no time to give up. The great challenges before us -- the skyrocketing debt, the ever-present threats to our national security, and the disharmony and deep divisions in our culture -- can be addressed responsibly and thoughtfully. But meeting these challenges successfully will require a culture change throughout our nation and in D.C. The "Nebraska model" -- just as it regularly lifts my spirits -- offers a healthy and constructive framework to a nation searching for a better way.