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Voters want leaders, not politicians

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Political Analyst
  • Arlen Specter and Parker Griffith switched parties and lost elections
  • Roland Martin says defeats were a sign voters are looking for politicians with principles
  • He says too many in Washington shirk hard votes out of fear of the consequences
  • Martin: Issues like Social Security, immigration, "too big to fail" don't get addressed

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin, a CNN political analyst, is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith" and the new book "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One Cable Network and host of a Sunday morning news show.

(CNN) -- Excuse me for not shedding a tear for the recent electoral losses of Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama.

Instead of sticking to their principles, both decided to play crass politics by switching parties in order to get re-elected. Well, we see how well that worked out for them.

Specter, a longtime moderate Republican, was down big time in the polls against a Republican opponent and took a major gamble last year by deciding to run as a Democrat. Yet that didn't do him much good, as he lost to congressman Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary. Because he has been in office for so long -- 30 years in the U.S. Senate -- he also got swept up in the anti-incumbent fervor we're seeing nationwide.

But anyone with any sense would tell you that Specter was no Democrat. He was merely a Republican trying to find an easier route to keep his political seat.

Then there is Griffith, who rode Democratic enthusiasm to win a seat in Congress two years ago. But after watching the first year of President Obama's term, he decided to start calling him and Speaker Nancy Pelosi socialists and saying he was ashamed to be a Democrat.

Thinking this was the right time to switch parties and be hailed as a victor by the right wing, Griffith got crushed at the polls, losing to the Tea Party favorite Mo Brooks by 24 points.

Griffith didn't realize that if voters in a Republican primary are voting, they don't want Republican-lite; they can get the real thing.

Their losses underscore the real issue we have today: far too many gutless wonders who occupy political office and are deathly afraid to do what they are elected to do, which is lead.

There are significant issues in this nation right now. But all that happens, with the rare exception of things like the health care bill, is we get watered-down results because politicians don't want to (a) offend their major political donors with real legislation that helps people and (b) make the tough calls on policies that might prove to be unpopular at home but are necessary to advance the country.

For instance, everyone is up in arms about the Arizona immigration law. But in the absence of immigration reform on the federal level, it only makes sense that states would begin to grasp at straws to deal with the issue. Was the initial law a case of racial profiling coming into the mix? Of course! But it still speaks to a need for members of Congress to man up and woman up and make the hard choices.

The problem is that immigration reform is really lose-lose politically. Democrats want to act now, thinking they will lock up the Hispanic vote for the next generation, but are afraid to throw away part of the white vote. Republicans don't want to tick off white voters but also know that angering Hispanics won't help them much in the future. That's all politics. But in the end, we still have a massive immigration problem that no one is moving to fix.

Congress won't touch it in an election year for fear of making a tough vote that would affect their re-election chances. Will it happen in 2011? Maybe. But then the excuse will be the 2012 election. What about 2013? We'll then hear the cry about the 2014 midterm election. See, this can go and on.

Have we seen true leadership with financial reform and "too big to fail"? Nope. Obama decries it, Pelosi rips it, Republicans trash it, but when it came time to do something about it, they all punted. And now analysts at Moody's, the credit ratings agency, say that "too big to fail" is still in place, even if the current bill is signed into law.

For years we have heard politicians from both parties talk about the need for Social Security reform. But it's called the third rail of politics: "You don't touch it."

So Congress passes the buck each year, because no one in either party wants to be a true leader and take on the issue. We need to get it done. It is clear that we are in store for a heap of trouble down the road, but with folks today protecting their political jobs, nothing gets done.

There are, no doubt, some good men and women in Washington, D.C. They get sent there hoping to do the right thing but get sucked into the "do no harm" aspect of governing. The lobbyists descend on them like locusts; their party leaders tell them to back off when it comes to real change; we, the voters, end up getting screwed in the process.

Call me an idealist, but I would rather lose with my dignity than win in shame.

It is abundantly clear that this country needs fewer politicians and more leaders. The only way we are going to see true change is if voters start voting for true leaders at the polls and, if they are in the U.S. House and fail to lead, replace them in two years. If a U.S. senator joins the followers and not the leaders, get rid of him or her in six years.

This nation is crying out for men and women of conscience and principle to stand up, make a clarion call to lead and then do it. But as long as we're willing to accept impotent politicians, the next generation will still be howling about fixing the messes we see right now.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.