Serving in an elected office should be a calling, not a career or free ride to financial security. Not a lifetime pursuit. Before anyone assumes this is another criticism aimed at the President, let me disabuse you of this misconception.
I paint with a wide brush here. The President, those who would be President, and those serving in Congress are all fair game.
Mr. Trump is just another in a long line of political figures who puts self-interest and the interests of those who support him before the country.
Mr. Biden, Mr. Sanders, Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Schumer, Mr. McConnell, and others stand guilty of the same behavior to varying degrees. When the country looks for a permanent solution to the problem, they won’t find it in anyone serving in Congress or among the candidates running for office.
While many of these members of Congress and candidates for public office are sincere, once elected, they work within a system whose prime directive is self-preservation.
If you want to succeed in Congress, you play by the rules. And partisanship, combined with a resistance to compromise, while more theater than substance, is the main playbook.
Today’s Congress, with few exceptions, is a polarized environment. One side is matter and the other antimatter. Any contact—in the form of cooperation— and there is instant annihilation. This was never the intent of the founders. A forced compromise was the key to both controlling governmental power and mitigating the rule of a simple majority.
Yet there is a wink and a nod to certain acceptable practices embraced by all who darken these hallowed halls. A hidden Congress operating purposely to preserve the status quo.
No party or political affiliation has all the right answers or even the best answers. What they each have are elements that can make the solution better. Yet criticizing actions of the other side, regardless of their merit, is the norm.
One example is the criticism of Mr. Trump’s restrictions on travel from China at the early outbreak of COVID-19. Almost across-the-board, Democrats criticized the move as “unnecessary or xenophobic.”
Biden openly spoke of his criticism over the China travel ban. (https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/481028-biden-slams-trump-for-cutting-health-programs-before-coronavirus-outbreak)
And he was not alone in his criticism. (https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/04/coronavirus-quaratine-travel-110750)
Mr. Trump was right in imposing the ban. Yet the hostile, never-give-the-other-side-credit-attitude, prevails. While there is much to be critical about in the President’s response, the critics in Congress have done little to mitigate it.
The media bears some responsibility here. What was once dispassionate reporting of facts has morphed into sensationalizing every aspect of political or governmental news. Using adjectives when reporting actions or statements by the President or any political figure is a practice dangerous to a free, unrestricted, and credible press.
Confirmation of sources, use of multiple avenues of source material, and fact-based reporting is replaced with “reality show” entertainment. Every headline is “breaking” news. Using superlatives in our twenty-four-seven news cycle hides the important matters that need reporting. All they accomplish is to sustain confirmation bias in those ill-equipped to discern the difference between fact and beliefs.
The media is crying wolf and no one is listening.
Stories like Watergate, Iran-Contra, Nixon Tax case, Fast and Furious, Katrina aid disaster, etc., need be told. Coloring the statement of the President with the opinion of the particular news agency does not.
Reporters should ask difficult questions and should demand answers. But, absent an answer by the political figure, all they need report is the President or Senator or Governor refused to answer. There is no need to characterize or described their behavior, attitude, or facial expressions.
Report the news, let people form their own opinion. To express an opinion, do so as an editorial piece. Don’t mask it as news. But the media is not the sole problem. They aggravate the situation when they could be doing so much more to expose real issues, but they did not create the reality.
The nature of the political arena does that.
While we need an new approach to electing and keeping those we put in office, the experiment with Mr. Trump has been an unmitigated disaster. Mr. Trump was not the answer. In the three years he’s been in office, he’s done nothing to mitigate and everything to exasperate the problem with partisan politics.
Mr. Trump, a political novice with poor diplomatic finesse and a fundamental lack of communication skills, is not a cure for the disease infecting politics. He is a symptom of a different form of cancer. A tumor needing to be excised before it becomes malignant, but Mr. Trump is not the only one. He was a poor choice in reaction to frustration with the government. He is the ultimate example of America cutting off her nose to spite her face.
Joe Biden is not the answer to the problem either, but I think he would be a good platform for change. He could be the second of the one-term Presidents, setting the tone for a constantly changing Presidency and members of Congress.
Biden can be a placebo for the long-term change needed. The real solution is multi-tiered.
First, we need a wholesale extirpation of incumbents. From the President to the Senate to the House and on down to the Governors, Mayors, and state representatives. Like the unavoidable damage of chemotherapy in treating cancer, there will be casualties of some good members. But the balance of reclaiming government from special interest groups and big corporate money will be worth it, eventually.
Members of Congress should know they serve at the pleasure of the people. The reality of losing elections should be a real motivation to high performance. Sadly, this is not the case. Because of the almost certainty of reelection incumbency grants today, politicians know the key is to win the first one. The rest will follow if they play by the rules.
Longevity in office earns you influence at the cost of the ideals upon which you ran for office in the first place and inoculates you with an advantage over those who would challenge you. The few exceptions to this reality are outliers and do little to improve the state of government.
Second, we need a Constitutional Amendment imposing term limits on members of Congress. Four terms for members of the House, serve no more than eight years. Two terms for Senate, serve no more than twelve years.
The value of gaining practical experience, facilitated by their re-election, for the most effective politicians—something necessary in any responsible position—would allow them to serve up to twenty years and pass on that experience to those who follow.
Fairly compensated while in office. Participating in Social Security, like the rest of America. Eligible for matching 401-k plans, like the rest of America. Covered by several options for health insurance, like the rest of America.
But then time to go.
Congress should be a revolving door, not the equivalent of permanent daycare for the aimless child with a degree in some esoteric field who can’t hold a real job living in the basement of their parent’s home.
The list of people serving in Congress for decades is staggering. Some I have heard mention of. Some I had to check several times just to make sure it wasn’t a joke. Now I’m sure some of these folks are nice people, but it may be time for us to reconsider leaving them there forever.
Don Young, Republican 47 years in the House
Patrick Leahy, Democrat 45 years in the House
Chuck Grassley, Republican 45 years in the House and Senate
Ed Markey, Democrat 43 years in the House and Senate
Here’s my favorite, got all the bases covered.
Richard Shelby, Democrat & Republican 41 years in the House and Senate
Jim Sensenbrenner (Who?) Republican 41 years in the House
Marcy Kaptur (Who too?) Democrat 37 years in the Senate
The above are all CURRENT members of Congress. In that span of four decades, when most could have two careers, they stayed in the confines of Congress. Robert Byrd, deceased, served for Fifty-one-years as a US Senator. FIFTY-ONE-YEARS.
Therein lies the problem. The continuation in perpetuity breeds a desire to hold on no matter what the cost, be it allegiance to the money funding the campaigns in exchange for favorable legislation or the simple yet powerful lust for power and the satisfying assuaging of one’s ego.
If constant clamoring and raging against the other side of the aisle gets me re-elected, so be it. If refusing to compromise on the most critical issues facing the country gets me re-elected, so be it. If making speeches no one listens to on the floor of the Senate or in the House chambers, gets me re-elected so be it.
They get in, and they hang on like a starving dog with a bone. The attempts to change this status quo have failed miserably.
Each party vacillates in and out of power, reaping the benefits of control and bemoaning the loss when the other side rules. The problem is the halls of Congress are full of privileged people insulated from reality who use the arcane rules of the House and Senate to further their own political career. Which leads us to the next fundamental change.
The other needed change is the elimination of add-ins, known as riders, to legislation that have no direct relationship to the intent or purpose of the bill. Remember the bridge to an Alaskan Island? It is one of the best examples. https://www.heritage.org/budget-and-spending/report/the-bridge-nowhere-national-embarrassment
Riders to the Corona stimulus bill, inserted by both parties, are the perfect illustration of the problem with those who serve in Congress as it has evolved over the years.
While many of these organizations are well deserving of support, this support should be open and public, not buried in the back of a 300-plus page bill in this time of national emergency. Just finding the final text of the bill is a challenge, let alone reading it. (Which I did, but I might have skipped a few lines.)
Each of these riders has cover language to camouflage their true intent of garnering political benefit to the sponsor. These sponsors cross the aisle in their political affiliation. Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of this abuse of office.
The cover language for these items, “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus domestically and internationally,” prefaces each addition. It strains credibility that these add anything to the efficacy of the legislation or its expressed purpose.
Now while I see some of these as worthwhile causes, it seems dubious at best to include them in this legislation.
National Endowment for the Arts $75 million
Office of Museum and Library services $50 million
Railroad Retirement Board $5 million
JFK Center for the Arts $25 million
Gallaudet University $7 million
Howard University $13 million
Corporation for Public Broadcasting $75 million
Student Aid & Administration $40 million
Treatment of Sunscreen Innovation Act (Fast track approval through FDA, primarily benefits businesses in Kentucky, Mitch McConnell’s state)
Casinos (access to tax breaks and Small Business loans)
And the list of riders goes on ad nauseam. It would seem there is such a thing as a “free ride” and it exists only in one place, the Congress of the United States.
If you are interested, here is the text of final legislation signed by the President. Fascinating reading. https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hr748/BILLS-116hr748enr.pdf
The problem in government is one of our own making. We send to Congress, or the State House, or the White House the same type of candidate over and over. The tide flows one way one election and then back again for the next, doing nothing but running up on the sand and washing away our sandcastles of hope.
We are the problem and we need to fix it.
If we are serious about change, we need not look for anyone to drain the swamp. We need not emasculate one branch of government in favor or another. We need not throw our hands up in the air and accept the status quo.
We have only to send a message. We won’t do this in one election, perhaps not even in several. But if we overturn the ennui over the US Capitol and change the comfort of incumbency into one of uncertainty, one where the substance of one’s tenure in government matters, we can take back the reins of power.