Jennifer Granholm: Public Service Is the Antidote For Voter Anger

Acts of kindness occurring each day all over America can soothe voter rage.

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Often, the most visible public service is performed by those who have run for and been elected to political office. In good times, they sometimes get some of the credit. In bad times, they receive most of the blame. That's the lot of a public servant. So why do it? U.S. News asked four current and former public servants. Here's what Jennifer Granholm, governor of Michigan, had to say:

The November election will end a tumultuous campaign season that began with many good public servants losing in the primaries because angry voters wanted to "throw the bums out." If this trend continues on Election Day, it would be because the public has simply grown impatient. That's a warning signal for all newly minted politicians flush with victory that they, too, could soon face an angry electorate if they don't produce results quickly or dramatically enough to sate the hunger of an impatient electorate.

[See a slide show of 14 establishment candidates who lost to insurgents.]

The experience of the past few months reminds us that unleashed cynicism and anger are infectious, cancerous. Anyone who has recently visited the badlands of the blogs knows that the digital soapbox roils with angry cynicism. Al Gore once eloquently said: "Cynicism is deadly. It bites everything it can reach—like a dog with a foot caught in a trap. And then it devours itself. It drains us of the will to improve; it diminishes our public spirit; it saps our inventiveness; it withers our souls." Cynicism, however, is just an ugly mask that, when lifted, reveals pain.

Fortunately, there is a sure-fire antidote for the negativity and pain that besets our democracy, an antidote that is the purest act of all: service to others. Even the hardest heart softens when a tutored child overcomes the odds to excel. Even the most virulent antigovernment activist feels compassion in delivering meals to disabled and home-bound seniors. Even the hurting unemployed worker will begin to heal when helping to rebuild a crumpled neighborhood in the wake of a hurricane. The acts of kindness occurring each day all over America can begin to heal our pain, soothe our rage, and remind us that we are one human family.

But even more importantly, America desperately needs the help. Indeed, this new class of political leaders won't be any more successful than the last ones at a "quick fix" since, darn it, they weren't issued magic wands either. Problems such as child poverty, blight, poor education, and homelessness are too big to leave only to the politicians. America's problems and America's pain belong to all of us. So there's a sign on the door of your local Big Brothers Big Sisters or AmeriCorps or Habitat for Humanity. The sign reads: Help Wanted. The pay is lousy, but the rewards are limitless.

And perhaps the biggest reward for an angry voter is discovering that service to others can be the most effective painkiller of all.