Public Servants, Beltway Disease, Career Politicians
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In the 18th century our Founding Fathers were forced into crafting a new republic, after rejecting over a century as colonies of England. This republic was an experiment in governance design to support a vibrant free market economy, a growing country with an active frontier, and the need for a common defense. Ben Franklin wrote that “in free governments the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns.” The original intent envisioned a lawmaking branch of citizen legislators, who served for a short time prior to returning to their original vocation. Service to the country was viewed as a privilege and not a vocation. Since the creation of our republic, we have certainly moved away from that original design ideal.
In the 21st century we now have a vast bloated federal bureaucracy with departments and agencies our Founders never envisioned lead by career politicians who never participate in the private sector yet govern over the largest economy in the world. Wealth is earned by hard work but is now redistributed by the government from the successful to those less fortunate. This redistribution of wealth is not only between individuals but also between states. Equal opportunity has been replaced with equal results, in spite of individual involvement or causation. The scope of our federal government, intentionally kept limited, has now evolved into a behemoth gobbling up more and more of our Gross Domestic Product. Our federal government, designed to arbitrate between states, has now evolved into a permanent class of professional politicians and bureaucrats ruling over the states.
In 1787 Roger Sherman of Rhode Island warned “By remaining in the seat of government” rather than returning home to “mix with the people,” lawmakers “would acquire the habits of the place, which might differ from those of their constituents.” Newly elected legislators immediately move to the Washington DC area and quickly disconnect from their constituents, communicating with their districts by mail or the internet. Washington DC has become an incestuous pit of federal bureaucracy where idealistic politicians succumb to the “beltway disease” to join the Ruling Elite. Career politicians change from primarily representing their districts to fixation on currying party favors to help in re-election. Read the Declaration of Independence and notice how similar “professional politicians” now resemble the former oppressors of the Crown.
The question is whether this country can return to the original design of a “public servant.” There are things we can do to return to this idea. Voters have the power today to replace career politicians at each election, but frequently we send the same career politicians back to Washington. The first step in this re-transformation should be term limits capped at no more than 12 years for federal offices (two six year Senate terms, six two year House terms, or three House terms and one Senate term). Politicians should be paid a salary while in office, with no pension. Politicians must participate in Social Security like all Americans, purchase their own health care like all Americans, and must abide by all laws they impose on the American people. There should be a lifetime ban on any elected official at the state or federal level from ever being a professional lobbyist. Serving in Congress is an honor, a temporary duty, not a career.
With today’s technology there is little reason for politicians to spend a majority of their time in Washington anyway. Remote governance can be enabled by wide area networks for conversation, collaboration, and actual voting. Teleconferences can avoid the need to face to face meetings. C-SPAN broadcasts speeches today but fails to show that the chamber is virtually empty, so speeches could also be remotely presented. With adequate security, electronic voting could easily be recorded over the internet. Electronic voting would also discourage the production of mega-bills that are unreadable and not understandable. Convening physically in Washington would only be required for large meetings and ceremonial occasions. Power must be decentralized back to the home districts or home states, allowing ready access to the people Who serve by the people They serve.
There is no reason for politicians to become corrupted by the bureaucracy. Investments in information technology would enable legislators to serve from their home district and maintain their connection back with their disillusioned constituents. The culture of government must be reset back to the original design of citizen legislators who serve for a short period prior to returning to their original vocations. Maybe we can finally put the public back in the republic!