By George W. Sarris
Diogenes of Sinope was an ancient Greek philosopher who lived in a tub, and walked through the streets of Athens in the daytime carrying a lantern. When asked what he was doing, he replied,
I am looking for an honest man!
The more I read about the politicians of our day, the more I resonate with Diogenes! Are there any honest men (or women) in the political arena today?
Scandals Are No Longer News!
National and state government in this country has been rocked over and over by scandals to the point that they are no longer shocking. We are no longer surprised to learn of Senators or Representatives or Governors who have been involved in gross immorality, or who have lied directly to the public, or who have been recipients of kickbacks, or misused public funds, or voted for bills because of some perk they received, or who voted for bills they never read, or who . . . . the list just keeps going on and on.
Power corrupts. The longer people remain in power, the more power those people get. The more power those people get, the greater the temptation to misuse their power. The greater the temptation to misuse their power, the deeper the level of corruption that arises.
The Founders of our country fought against government by aristocrats. They envisioned a government by the people – people who came from the private community and returned there after their terms of service were over. George Washington set the example by leaving the Presidency after two terms.
Out of Touch
Unfortunately, government in this country has become increasingly government by an aristocracy. Governing has become a long-term career for politicians who leave office only and if they have been voted out or die. All too often, that means they never leave until they die!
42% of current members of Congress have been in office for more than 20 years! And, there are some members of Congress who have been in office for more than double that amount of time.
John Dingell and John Conyers, both of Michigan, have been members of the House of Representatives for most of their adult lives – 56 years for Dingell and 46 years for Conyers. Daniel Inouye was Hawaii’s first US Representative when it became a state in 1959, and has held the Senate seat for that state since 1963. Charlie Rangel of New York and Bill Young of Florida were both elected to the House in 1971 – 41 years ago.
Since term limits can only be put in place if career politicians themselves vote for them - which everyone knows ain't gonna happen anytime soon! – the only alternative we have for getting government back into the hands of the people is by voting the bums out!
I would like to offer a suggestion. Vote against any incumbent, of either party, who has been in office longer than eight years, or two terms – whichever is longer. We currently do that for the President. Why not for members of Congress? That would limit representatives to four terms, and senators to two. Because only a portion of the Senate is up for re-election every two years, we would still have continuity over time.
But, how about effectiveness? Wouldn’t voting the bums out make Congress less effective in dealing with the difficult problems of life in America today?
Perhaps not! In fact, it may actually do just the opposite. The latest Congressional Job Approval Polls indicate that only 13% of respondents approve of the job Congress is doing! No matter how you look at it, that is not a very good record!
But, what about the good ones? Shouldn’t they be able to continue in office?
I’m sure there are some “good politicians” in office (although I sometimes wonder if that is not an oxymoron akin to “jumbo shrimp”). However, if they are really committed to representing the true needs of the people they serve, they need to return to their communities to make sure they really know what the needs and issues are.
Entrenched politicians live in a bubble and are only marginally aware of the real concerns of the people they supposedly serve. Sure, they hold Town Meetings periodically so people can see how “in touch” they are with their constituencies. But, most of their time is spent in Washington, DC – in a world vastly different from the one in which the people they represent actually live.
Did anyone really think George H.W. Bush had ever actually shopped at a grocery store when he expressed amazed appreciation at seeing a supermarket checkout scanner during the 1992 election campaign? Did anyone actually fall for the story that John and Teresa Heinz-Kerry were familiar visitors to Wendy’s when they stopped at one in Newburgh, NY for a photo op while on the campaign trail in 2004? Did anyone believe Joe Biden conversed on a regular basis with the customers at his neighborhood Home Depot when he told how he spent “a lot of time” there in his televised debate in 2008?
Does anyone actually think that members of Congress really understand the economic woes of the average American? Their annual salary is currently $174,000 per year . . . plus about $110,000 in fringe benefits for health and retirement plans . . . plus expense accounts to cover travel and the cost of doing “official” business.
Voting the bums out may be the small step for man that could result in a giant leap for mankind!