The following is an edited version of remarks delivered by Mackinac Center Communications Specialist Kathy Hoekstra to a tax day tea party on April 15, 2011.
A little while ago you heard from my colleague Ken Braun who gave you a primer on “politician puppy training”. It is one of the best analogies I’ve ever heard about holding your elected officials accountable for their actions.
I’d like to go one better. As Ken said, you need to treat politicians like puppies. But while you treat them like dogs, you need to act like a CAT. Even if you’re a dog person, and don’t like cats.
Here’s why. (And anyone familiar with either of these animals knows exactly what I’m talking about.)
There are a few characteristics about cats that appeal to me. Once you hear these, they may appeal to you as well:
Cats are Curious. They want to know exactly what’s going on in every nook and cranny of their environment, and sniff out trouble when they can.
Cats are hunters. They root out unsavory rodents and rid the world of them.
Cats are survivalists. They always land on their feet.
Cats are independent. They set their own agenda and are bound to no one else’s plans for them.
But the most important characteristic is that unlike dogs, who are loyal to the person, cats are loyal to the House.
Let me repeat that. Dogs are loyal to the person; cats are loyal to the House.
So train your elected officials like puppies, but don’t act like one yourself. Here’s why.
If you act like a dog and stay loyal to a particular politician or party, you will become attached to them just like a dog on a leash.
Being on an elected official’s “leash” means you become subject to their priorities, not yours. As Ken Braun put it in an earlier essay, "Use political parties (and politicians) only as tools toward your ends, not theirs. Your loyalty is too valuable to sell so cheaply."
Like being bound to a leash, when you are loyal to that one politician, you are bound to that politician’s actions. You are attached to that politician’s good votes as well as bad votes. Like when an owner takes his dog for a walk, no matter what path that the owner takes the dog has to go along. Whatever path that politician decides to take after you elect him or her, you have no choice but to follow.
You run the same risk when being loyal to a political party. There are times a political party may not want to do what’s best for your house and the same idea applies. If you treat a political party as if you are a dog, you could find yourself being led down paths that stray from your core belief system.
Now, let’s look at this like a cat. Again, cats are not loyal to the owner. Cats are loyal to the house they occupy.
As long as cats have a roof over their heads they don’t care who lives in that house. The owner could change as often as every two to four years (or whatever election cycle applies to that house). As long as the occupant of the house feeds it, changes its litter box and generally leaves it alone to do as it pleases; as long as whoever is under that roof is doing these things right, the cat is content and can thrive.
If the people who live under that roof do not do the right thing; if you don’t feed a cat or change its litter box or let it do as it pleases, what does the cat do? Anything it can do to keep the house the way he wants it regardless of the person running the house.
If a person who lives in a cat’s house does not do what he or she should be doing to keep the house to a cat’s liking, a cat will make some noise. A cat will arch its back and hiss. A cat will howl. A cat will pop out its claws. A cat may even scratch or bite you. If the cat’s wrath works, you’ll end up doing the right thing to keep the house in order to please the cat. If you do not, the cat will simply give up on you and go elsewhere. Perhaps the cat will find another home.
The state of Michigan is your house. This is where your loyalty should be. Your elected officials are the people who operate your house. If they’re not making the state of Michigan the way you want it, you need to be like the cat. You need to make some noise.
You want to get rid of burdensome and unnecessary regulations and licensing that keep Michigan from being an inviting place to do business. You better arch your back and start hissing at your elected officials—or puppies.
You want government to spend less of your money and be smarter when they do spend it. Start howling at the top of your lungs. The puppies will hear you.
And you want fiscal responsibility in your house. If your elected officials—or puppies-- are not doing what they should to get this fiscal house in order, there’s a reason cats have one of natures’ best tools--retractable claws. Cats keep them sharp and choose when to use them.
Your retractable claws are tools like Michigan Capitol Confidential, Michigan Votes, the Mackinac Center and other resources that keep you sharp so you can scratch and claw at the people occupying your house when they don’t keep your house the way you want it; a house that allows you to live in relative peace and prosperity. A house in which, cat-like, you call your own shots. A house in which you’re not at the end of someone’s leash, following someone’s lead.
As you move forward to the next election cycle and beyond consider your loyalty. Is it to the person who makes your house undesirable to live in or undesirable to do business in? Or is your loyalty to the house itself?