If free chocolate for everyone were part of a proposed legislative package, would your congressperson (A) carefully consider the cost-benefit effect of such legislation or (B) take a survey of his/her constituency to see how many voters liked chocolate?
If you answered (B), you just passed your adult civics lesson. What you probably don’t know is, the same congressperson will then solicit the dentists’ lobby for campaign contributions based on the increased business they received due to his/her support for the legislation.
And then, when it takes you three weeks to get a dental appointment to fix a painful cavity, you will scream for term limits.
They Know What You Know
If you were to run for Congress, one of the first things you would do is pay a consultant to tell you about the constituency you want to represent. They need to know what you know so they can fashion a bumper sticker short enough for you to remember as you step into the voting booth.
In 1986, I attended a League of Women Voters candidate night with three potential congressmen and an incumbent running in the Republican primary. After inflation and interest rates in the high teens in the early 80s, the prime rate still was hovering in the ten-percent range for which then-Fed Chairman Paul Volcker was taking much heat. Jack Kemp, then a sitting member of the House of Representatives, was offering legislation to limit the power of the Fed.
At the Q&A segment, I asked the three wannabes and the incumbent if they supported Kemp’s legislation. None of the three contenders had a clue what I was talking about —not even close— and the incumbent gave a glib non-answer. At the break, the incumbent came up to me and said they never expected a question like that. Just stop and think about it—none of the four candidates seeking to be my representative in Congress thought anyone who had enough interest to attend a candidates’ night function would think to ask a question about a serious impediment to home and auto sales.
Then There is Term Limits
So, you’re tired of the same old-same old and you are fed up and not going to take it anymore. The most commonly expressed remedy for your frustration these days is term limits. It will never happen and would be a bad idea if it did. How is this supposed to take place? By constitutional convention. There hasn’t been one since 1787 for good reasons too lengthy to go into here. Does anyone really believe legislators, the people we are trying to get rid of, are going to vote themselves out of office?
If the impossible somehow happened and we ended up with limits on the number of terms anyone was allowed to serve, where would their replacements come from? The obvious answer is the same place the old ones came from. The two major political parties are the Democrat and Republican farm teams. So as a sitting congressperson is termed out, there are additional opportunities to promote a party faithful. Selling tickets to a local coroner’s fundraiser boosts Washington opportunities.
Serving a term as a precinct committeeman provides great insight into sausage-making.
Of, By, and For the People
If the government of the United States is of, by, and for the people and it is not functioning to our liking, who is to blame? The French?
A few years ago, I was having a cup of coffee with a friend and I brought up something Allen West had said on TV recently. Allen West is a retired Army colonel who served in Iraq and a former congressman from Florida whose views on issues are frequently sought. After describing the West commentary, my friend looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know who Allen West is.” He could, however, recite every important statistic of our local minor league baseball team plus the point spreads of all athletic events scheduled for the upcoming weekend.
Jack Germond, one-time Washington Post columnist, wrote, “Unsurprisingly, the poll-takers don’t talk a lot in public about the ignorance of the electorate on political and public policy matters. And the politicians are not going to disclose the, let’s say, limited body of knowledge in their constituencies. You don’t get elected calling your voters airheads.”
What Do You Know?
Here are ten questions any informed citizen will know the answer to without research:
- Name the two senators who represent your state in the U.S. Senate
- How many people represent your district in the House of Representatives?
- Name one.
- What is the total number of representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress?
- What is the term length for a U.S. senator?
- What is the term length for a member of the House of Representatives?
- How many justices are there on the U.S. Supreme Court?
- What does POTUS stand for?
- What is net neutrality?
- What is the population of the United States?
If you want better politicians who respect you and your wishes, put your study cap on. Here is a place to start:
- Watch some news and not the local news, weather and sports. Sample several cable news outlets until your BS snifter is tuned up.
- Find something to drill down on, something of particular personal interest, and do a little research. The Internet is a good place to expand your knowledge.
- Read a book by an author you like on one of the news shows.
Anyone who does only those three things for a week will be off and running on a self-directed journey and the consultants will be telling potential candidates they better sharpen up. Don’t have time? How many hours did you spend last week watching reality shows, sitcoms, sports, special effects gore and other bad TV?
Or, if you are hooked on chocolate, fuhgeddaboudit!