Why is truth so hard to find?
The passing of time should act as a constant reminder that lessons learned should never be forgotten. For example, one man, now relegated to the shadows of history, had many answers to the problems that plague today’s government. That man was George W. Norris. First elected in 1902 to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Nebraska, he served five terms before being elected U.S. Senator in 1912, and served five terms there as well.
But it wasn’t his tenure in office that made him significant. It was his independent and populist vision of government. First elected as a Republican, Norris was never caged by a party and continuously voted his conscious over party. Upset Republican Party leaders actually asked him to leave the party, which he did and then ran and got elected as an Independent.
Free from the political party chains that seemed wrapped around the necks of today’s politicians, Norris governed from a perspective of right and wrong, not right or left. In 1928 he wrote, “The greatest curse of the present day is the party spirit which controls the judgment and minds of the people, contrary to their own convictions.” Norris believed “… our people, high and low, great and small, rich and poor, in every act of a governmental nature must follow their convictions.” He was referring to the political parties that, “…do not permit any of their members to think for themselves, but require absolute obedience.”
I also believe the single most pressing problem in our country today is the great divide and even greater power of the two main political parties. Their growing distrust of each other has built a great hurdle between themselves and the true work that the American people hired them to do. We often hear that “Washington is broken” or that we are “mired in gridlock”, both of which seem true.
So what has happened to the lessons George Norris taught us a hundred years ago? Have all the elected independent thinkers in Washington been told to “sit down and shut up”? Have they succumbed to the party leaders demands of loyalty to party over loyalty to the people?
Norris once said, “I would rather go down to my political grave with a clear conscious than to ride in the chariot of victory as a Congressional stool pigeon, the slave, the servant or the vessel of any man, whether he be the owner and manager of a legislative menagerie…”
Norris wasn’t the first to reference the dangers in party power. Way back in 1789 Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” He too realized that party over people was a danger to a well functioning republic.
But one of George Norris’s greatest legacies does live on today. He was the driving force in creating Nebraska’s one-house Unicameral Legislature. It is nonpartisan. Wishful senators run for office with no political allegiance listed by their names. It is the only Unicameral Legislature among the 50 states and has been so since 1937. A former governor of Nebraska, when asked about governing a state with only one House, nonpartisan at that, said no government is perfect but a one-house government is only half as bad as a two-house government.
I am proud to be an Independent, so naturally I would admire a George W. Norris. His beliefs belonged to himself and were not dictated to him by party officials. His actions served the people before party and because of this he was politically pummeled by both parties as well as the press. During one of those contentious times he cautiously and with self-admitted fear, took the stage, in front of what he thought to be a hostile audience, to explain an unpopular opinion. He slowly walked to the center of the stage, as the attendees remained silent. He opened his speech with seven little words, “I’m here to tell you the truth.” The audience burst into applause for regardless of their agreement or disagreement with Norris’s position, they wanted more than anything to hear the truth.
And, isn’t that what we all want from those we elected? The truth? And, isn’t it hard to find today?
Folks, I guess it is up to each of us to find the truth in this time of over-saturated of news and opinion. As we close in on this next election I hope we all invoke the tremendous courage of a George W. Norris, that we think for ourselves and vote our conscious, and to hell with the political party influence and more power to the people.
Greg Awtry is the former publisher of the Scottsbluff (Neb.) Star-Herald and Nebraska’s York News-Times. He is now retired and living in Hubbard Lake. Greg can be contacted at email@example.com.