While viewing the congressional committee hearings on the recent Supreme Court justice nomination I thought, “And we’re paying these bozos good Yankee money to do this?”
Was this supposed to be a Supreme Court Nominating Committee session? They could have fooled me! I’ll bet that not one vote was changed by what came out of those hearings. Everybody already knew how they are going to vote. They were merely putting on a performance for the constituents back home to make them think they are actually doing the job they were elected to do. Congressional representatives spend over half their time fundraising and hobnobbing with corporate lobbyists, those two activities being often indistinguishable.
What can we do to put a stop to this nonsense? Vote them out of office? They would only be replaced by more well-intentioned patriotic individuals who would quickly become consumed by the Washington culture and fall into the same trap. It’s the system that’s broke and we must fix it.
Recent surveys reveal an approval rating high of just 18 percent for our present Congress; that’s an 82% disapproval rating. In another survey congressional approval was even lower, a shocking 10%. These low ratings have persisted for some time now, yet we keep sending these same bought-and-paid-for characters back to Washington every two years. Our senators and representatives obviously no longer have the consent of the governed when their approval ratings approach single digits. What’s really going on here and what can we do about it?
Some have suggested congressional term limits such as most other democratic republics impose. I would favor this solution if for no other reason than the congressional incumbents themselves and the corporate lobbyists so adamantly oppose it. 70 years ago we imposed term limits on our presidents by constitutional amendment, why not for our elected representatives? They are even more exposed and susceptible to partisan influences than presidents.
Term limit opponents tell us we would lose the valuable experience of our incumbent representatives. I say “great! That’s exactly what we have in mind.” We would lose the kind of experience and relationships that have given us increasingly soaring deficits, banking and savings and loan scandals, unnecessary wars and an out-of-control military-industrial-congressional conspiracy with a bloated defense budget. The new representatives should bring with them fresh experience from the real world. Political observer Paul Jacobs suggests that some of our present legislative problems might come from too much experience in electoral maneuvering, political expediency and deal-cutting.
New legislators almost invariably become part of the exclusive ingrown Washington culture of representatives, lobbyists, staffers and hangers-on. Consequently, legislative decisions quickly become influenced more by relationships than merit and are twice removed from the will of the electorate. With a constant turnover these cliques would have less time to build up and there would be less opportunity to profit from such cozy arrangements. Experience with term limits in some state and local governments has resulted in a decided increase in the number of candidates running for office each term. That has to be a positive sign.
A recent survey showed that 84% of Americans favor congressional term limits. In a country where it’s hard to get 51% of us to agree on anything that figure should be convincing enough. I say, let’s do it!
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.