As I prepare to leave the US House of Representatives at the end of this term, I am extremely grateful to the residents of Missouri’s 4th Congressional District whose votes allowed me to serve them for 34 years. Representing the district has been a tremendous privilege, and I will always cherish my service there.
Throughout our country’s history, the nation has experienced many challenges. We have had economic crises, agricultural hardships and military engagements, and the US Congress has responded to each one as it came along. I leave the House with some anxiety for the future, however.
In the past, Congress has worked best after great debates, when men and women of strong principles have met and compromised on difficult issues, which at the time could render us asunder. Through meeting in the center and solving the problems of the day, our country benefited. But as a result of the last election, the center has been hollowed out, and more members will represent extreme points of view, which is likely to make meaningful compromise difficult, if not impossible.
When returning members and new members arrive at the Capitol for the new Congress in January, they will confront enormous challenges as they work to chart the course for our country in the days ahead. These challenges include the economy and jobs, health care and education, to name a few. But I implore our citizens and our leaders not to forget that we are a nation at war. Unless our government protects our national security, none of these other important issues can receive the attention they deserve.
My greatest concern is that a chasm will develop between those who protect our freedoms and those who are being protected. I’ve often talked about what I perceive to be a civil-military gap, a lack of understanding between civilians and the military that has grown in the era of an all-volunteer force. For those not in uniform or connected to the military in some way, it’s easy not to relate to our service members’ difficulties as they deal with the trials of war and combat, multiple deployments, family separations, missed birthdays and other sacrifices too numerous to mention.
As a nation, we must strive to narrow that gap and bring our citizens together. Our men and women in uniform cannot devote their all to protect us if we fail to provide what they need to perform their missions, stay safe in the field and take good care of themselves and their families at home. I believe all Americans’ good intentions support the troops and their families. But those intentions must be reflected in action — and Congress bears the Constitutional responsibility to fulfill this sacred duty.
You can’t do the job as a member of Congress for so many years unless you love it, and I do. It is a labor of love, and to paraphrase my fellow Missourian Harry Truman, I’ve done my damndest every single day.
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