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Barracks Warriors

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Telling and retelling war stories has been a favorite pastime throughout the history of man. The fantasies of Baron Munchausen or the crazed illusions of Don Quixote also serve to expand our own capacity to conquer the unreal. Any person can become a hero in the safety of the barracks, and many do.

Listening to such tales of questionable glory or bravado reveals a characteristic common to all of them. When speaking of an adversary, the barracks warrior seldom, if ever, admits to fear and shows little or no respect for the opponent.

This is in stark contrast to the person in the trenches who views the enemy with a large measure of fear and respect. In the trenches, the enemy looms as a force that can do great harm. To perceive otherwise can be fatal, and the true warrior knows it.

Such phenomena are not limited to the field of battle. They exist in all competitive dimensions of life. Many a sale has been lost because a salesperson underestimated the competition.

In the same way, legislative issues constantly get out of hand when opposing views are dismissed as being without merit and, therefore, unworthy of proper consideration. Also, undesirable candidates often succeed in their quest for public office because the guys in the barracks are tilting at windmills instead of being where the action is.

The number of people who can be on the front line of any legislative contest is limited. Moreover, only those who fully understand both the issues and the opposition, and who are willing to work as a team, harnessing their individual dedication into a collective effort, can effectively further the cause.

Armchair generals who offer advice without an understanding of the issues and who fail to back their views with time or financial support are no more useful than barracks warriors.

However, through the medium of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors Political Action Committee (NAIFAPAC), all of us can, and should, be part of the action. Though we can’t all be on the front line, we can at least lend valuable support to the people who are.

NAIFAPAC does not lobby–NAIFA does. Instead, it provides financial support to candidates who are less likely to provoke a legislative contest, or who will be supportive when others throw bombshells at our business. It also does not try to buy votes. Given the millions of dollars being poured into legislative races today, it is not likely that a $10,000 or $20,000 contribution from a single PAC will sway a vote one way or the other. Rather, the hope is that our participation will open doors and give us an opportunity to present our views. Because those same doors will be open to other interests, it is very important that our facts are correct and persuasive and best represent our business and our policyholders.

Such lobbying is an important part of our culture and the democratic process. I know from experience that the information provided is often essential to the smooth flow of legislation. The right to petition our government was reaffirmed in 1945 in a First Amendment case, Thomas v. Collins. The court said, in effect, that it is our tradition to allow the widest room for discussion and the narrowest range for its restriction. Indeed, the free flow of competing ideas is the cornerstone of democracy and a free market economy.

And yet lobbyists of all stripes are being painted as some sort of evil that must be either ignored or stamped out. It is much in the fashion for politicians today to deny ties to lobbyists as if this somehow makes them Simon pure. Those who characterize lobbyists with a variety of unfavorable labels, while at the same time claiming to be the only one speaking for “ordinary people,” are speaking an untruth.

Ordinary people belong to hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations, most of them with a lobbying arm. Ordinary people teach school and many teachers belong to the National Association of Education. The NEA is large and is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington. They also work effectively in all of the state legislatures. The AARP, with nearly 50 million members, all ordinary people, is a powerhouse when it comes to lobbying, particularly in Washington.

Ordinary people belong to unions and they were the ones who invented the idea of political action committees. Their effectiveness speaking for ordinary people is well-known. Churches of many, if not most, denominations maintain a lobbying voice for their members. The doors to the churches are open to all, but most of those who enter are “ordinary people.” NAIFA members are also ordinary people, many of them striving through their labor to become extraordinary.

Those who vilify lobbyists in sweeping condemnations may, in truth, be trying to silence the voices of ordinary people.

Biographers have noted that in researching a subject, one of the most valuable resources is the person’s checkbook stubs. What beliefs did the subject back financially? Was the person generous or tight, thrifty or spendthrift? They feel that an indication of how a person spent their money told far more about their character than any other source.

A check stub evidencing membership in NAIFAPAC’s Century Club is probably the best insurance we can maintain to avoid a political deck stacked against us. Perhaps more importantly though, it puts us into political action and gives life to cherished convictions. Unlike the blurred reality of barracks warriors, it evidences a person who sees clearly today’s challenges.

Where will you be when the bugle blows?


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