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Chapter 8: Getting rid of Career Politicians

May 17, 2012

“The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.” —Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America

 

“What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.” —author Edward Langley

What’s wrong with career politicians

  • The fading American dream. The political elite—the so-called experts—are spoiling the American Dream. We now have a government of, by, and for the special interest groups. Members of Congress have learned that they can buy the financial support of special interest groups by voting for inappropriate federal spending. Misguided or lazy citizens are allowing them to do it; some of them actually don’t seem to realize that 100 percent of “federal funds” come from taxpayers.
  • The corruption of public office. It’s a real ego trip to be elected to public office. The power and trappings of office soon make public officials believe they are actually better than the people they supposedly serve—and that the normal rules of decency don’t apply to them. Everybody seeks their favor, tells them how great they are, offers them money, and even refers to them with words like “honorable” and “esteemed.” They hire staffers (at taxpayer expense) to stoke their egos, spread their fame, and assure their reelection. They have power, and power corrupts. Power attracts sex, money, media, fame, and eventually a feeling of invincibility. No wonder so many of them start with good intentions but end up involved in scandals.
  • Self service, not public service. Most first-time politicians get involved because they want to do something good for society. It doesn’t take them long to realize they have to twist the truth, cut deals, and serve special interests to perpetuate their time in office. By the time they’ve won a couple of elections, their original good intentions are long forgotten. And the longer they remain in public office, the more arrogant and corrupt they are likely to become.
  • Politics as a career. When America thrived, respected citizens were recruited by their neighbors to represent them as elected public servants. These citizens served in public office reluctantly—often at great personal sacrifice—and were anxious to return to their families and occupations as soon as possible.
  • The ruling elite. America is in decline partly because too many of today’s politicians are no longer public servants. They are instead part of a ruling elite. They are career politicians. They make little or no personal sacrifice. Most of them leave public office much wealthier than they were when they came in. Many of them have never had any other occupation, and it is doubtful they could do as well financially in any other career. Never having had a real occupation, they aren’t equipped to truly represent their constituents. It’s little wonder that they think government is the answer to every problem—they don’t know anything except government!
  • Too much faith in government. Because they win elections by promising more services, politicians eventually get government involved in every facet of life—despite the proven fact that governments don’t do anything very well or efficiently.
  • Deficit spending. Every successful business and family knows you can’t spend more than you earn. Governments can’t either. The trouble is that their accounting tricks, monetary manipulation, and borrowing against future generations work short-term for the career politicians who keep getting reelected—even while their actions keep contributing to the decline of America.
  • Politics for profit. Politicians give lots of lip service to “public service,” but they have feathered their own nests at the expense of the public. Their compensation, pensions, and fringe benefits are far more generous (at taxpayer expense) than those of the people they are supposed to represent. Starting annual pay for a member of Congress is $174,000. They’re usually in session fewer than 125 days a year, and after as few as five years of service they can draw a pension for the rest of their lives.
  • Revolving golden doors. Hundreds of former members of Congress have become lobbyists or government officials; thousands of congressional staffers have done the same. They are often promised these jobs in return for the favors they do for special interest groups while in office. This is just one more example of the corruption of career politicians.
  • Political gridlock. Too many politicians—often at the urging of special interest groups—paint themselves into policy corners from which no compromise is possible. “No tax increases,” “no military cuts,” and “no changes in Social Security” are three good examples.
  • No real home. Most of the individuals elected to Congress maintain only token residences in their home district for the purpose of reelection; they’re on a perpetual ego and power trip in the nation’s capital, constantly fawned over and catered to by their staffers and lobbyists.
  • Unfit for public office. Anybody who does what’s necessary to be elected president of the United States or to Congress is unfit for the office. To a slightly smaller degree, this often holds true for the holders of lessor offices too.

How to fix America’s problems with career politician

  • Election reform. Special interest groups should not be permitted to make campaign contributions, and the sources and amounts of all contributions should be disclosed prior to elections. For more details, see the “Election Reform” chapter.
  • Limit their power. With strict limits on the role of government, politicians will have less power. There will be fewer favors that can be granted to their cronies or denied to the enemies of their cronies. See the “Government” chapter for more about the importance of limiting the role of government.
  • Cap their compensation. The salaries of elected officials should be capped at the median income of the private sector. There is no reason for politicians to earn more than the people who elect them, and it doesn’t make sense for elected officials to be able to set their own pay and benefits at the expense of taxpayers. See the “Congressional Reform” chapter for proposed constitutional amendments to address congressional term limits, compensation, pensions, conflict of interest, and transparency.
  • No pensions for politicians. Eliminating all pensions and fringe benefits for elected officials would help get rid of career politicians. True patriots will be willing to serve temporarily (a term or two) after having proven themselves in a real occupation, and nobody will be tempted to make a career of elected office. Politicians can participate in private health insurance, Social Security, and individual retirement accounts just like everybody else.
  • Take back our money. The taxpayer-funded portion of congressional retirement accounts should be put into the general Social Security fund. Members of Congress should retire on Social Security and their own investments like everybody else—and they certainly don’t deserve to be rewarded by taxpayers for having pumped up their own pensions at our expense.
  • Make them “telecommute.” In the Age of the Internet, there is no reason for the public’s business to be done in the back rooms of Congress or the swanky bars and restaurants where lobbyists entertain members of Congress and their staffers. For more details about this proposal, see the chapter titled “Congressional Reform.”
  • Stop pumping up their egos. Let’s stop the phony tradition of automatically calling elected officials “esteemed” and “honorable.” Let their performance tell us whether or not they are honorable. Former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas put it like this:  “Since when have we Americans been expected to bow submissively to authority and speak with awe and reverence to those who represent us?”

“We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” —Greek writer Aesop

 

“Politicians need human misery. Government is a disease masquerading as its own cure.” —author and political activist L. Neil Smith

 

“Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.” —Cold War Communist leader of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev

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