Everybody recognizes that we disapprove at record levels the performance of our representatives in Washington DC. So what do we do about it? Essentially nothing - except re-elect them. We are as one Texan once opined, all hat and no cattle. We talk a good game but when it comes time for action, we fall far short. As an electorate we are a bunch of wimps seemingly bent on an agenda of self-abuse. Maybe we’re all unwitting victims of some super high-tech Stockholm syndrome – hypnotized and held hostage by empty words and gestures and the inclination to not rock the boat?
History reflects that this re-election of mainstream, self-serving and sometimes corrupt politicians is symptomatic of democracies around the world, an unwitting and mostly ill-timed, repeated approval of the status quo. Essentially, it rewards these irresponsible behaviors and is blatant permission to continue them.
In our Republic the politics of today are seated in the agenda of special interest monied groups where the good of the many or even the few falls by the wayside. Everybody wants a voice and say in how we do things and that’s our system. The problem is many of those folks want that privilege at everybody else’s expense… and if you spend your money wisely you can, more often than not, get your way. There appears to be little collaboration or tolerance of divergent viewpoints or perspectives and certainly little desire to parley. The atmosphere is divisive at best (Them vs. Us) and little is being done in Washington for the good of anybody.
Our point here is that the day when gentlemen/women left their farms and other businesses to serve their country when needed and that accomplished, returned to their fields/businesses, is all but gone. The spirit of Cincinnatus as our flag bearer and one of the inspirations for our founding fathers no longer exits. Why do politicians spend millions upon millions of dollars to pursue Congressional positions that compensate Senators and Representatives an average of $174,000 per year, Speaker of the House - $223,500 a year, Majority and Minority leaders of both the Senate and the House and the President Pro Tempore - $193,400 per year?
While we concede that these numbers are probably a hell of a lot more than any of us could ever hope to earn, it would appear for many that those figures are just for starters. While we know that the rumors of free lifetime medical coverage and huge pension packages just don’t exist, the potential that some of our legislators have to sweeten their overall earnings and net worth during their “service” is the pervasive reality that seems to motivate many office seekers. This is financial networking and influence peddling at the PhD level.
As Steve Kroft opined last November on CBS’s 60 Minutes many politicians appear to be motivated by, “power, prestige, and the opportunity to become a Washington insider with access to information and connections that no one else has, in an environment of privilege where rules that govern the rest of the country don't always apply to them.” Peter Schweizer author of Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich Off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison, Fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank at Stanford University agreed, “This is a venture opportunity… an opportunity to leverage your position in public service and use that position to enrich yourself, your friends, and your family.”
Couple that entitled, egocentric patrician attitude with a Congress that can’t communicate within its own domain let alone with its own constituents and you have the perfect storm – where the real and legitimate business of the people is put to the curb.
Whether The Country and its Citizenry are well served depends on the motivation and intent of that “public service,” whether an ulterior business motive rules or the spirit of “Non Ministrari-Sed Ministrare” - "not to be ministered unto but to minister" or more commonly translated as "not to be served but to serve” prevails. We note that not only my prep alma mater Lenox School embraced that motto but it also serves Wellesley College and Queens University in Charlotte well.
What would apparently also eventually serve the interests of the American Citizenry well is the recent passage of the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK) whose purpose it is to prevent politicians and federal employees from profiting from insider knowledge (trading) by requiring their financial dealings be transparent. We have another case where ethics and morality had to be legislated because it was happening and (embarrassingly) no one was going to do anything about it.
The beleaguered STOCK bill was old news until 60 Minutes in the person of Steve Kroft reported that several members of Congress allegedly used insider information for personal gain. With that revelation The STOCK Act became popular, gained additional necessary support, was ultimately passed and signed into law by President Obama on April 4, 2012. In some circles within the beltway it’s called, “The 60 Minutes Act.”
So, now where do these sideways politicians go now with the light of day shining brightly on their inner sanctums? Probably not very far and with that sunshine a new honesty that may just bring out those righteously motivated servants of the people who can get the business of the people done and then return to their farms and businesses. Maybe we can even recover some long in the tooth Senators and Representatives…
The obvious Solution? We need to reject professional politicians who would seek office motivated by ego, power, prestige, greed and have proven by their actions and words that, indeed, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We need to eliminate the Super PACs and level the playing field, further limit the reach of lobbyists, establish term limits for all political positions (there are none for Senators and Representatives) and literally remove any barriers that prevent otherwise motivated, qualified, capable citizens from seeking office.
Positive changes won’t happen until we start holding our representatives accountable for their actions and demanding a fair and unbiased representation (no pursuit of business opportunities, please) and then use the ballot box to affirm or reject their performance. We see voters returning incumbents to office over and over in spite of their dismal records.
Right now the difference is MONEY and that absolutely needs to be removed from the equation. The Obama and Romney presidential campaigns combined are projected to spend in excess of an obscene $2 Billion between now and the November 2012 elections. Now, that’s all about POWER. Yes, I’m part of that 87% dissatisfied with the performance of our Congress and yes, I’m an Independent ready to vote for the best candidate, regardless of party.
Thank God for Steve Kroft and other righteously motivated investigative journalists who would keep them honest when nothing or nobody else would or could.
No, this post is not some grand revelation - just a restatement of the obvious. No doubt, this issue will be debated until the end of days. At some point, though, we will have to stand up and demand better instead of just responding to polls. Non Ministrari-Sed Ministrare. Now it’s our turn…