Back in 1789, the first Congressmen were soldiers, planters, farmers, merchants, lawyers and teachers. They left their homes on horseback and journeyed forth to represent the concerns of their districts. Their interests lie in forging greater prosperity and protections for their people back home and their charge was considered an honor. Today we have honor amongst thieves. It seems every week we read about corruption or waste or inappropriate contributions/deal making, and no one beneath the dome is willing to call foul for fear of being revealed.
Too often there are conflicts between what the people want and what (as he/she perceives it) is in the representative’s best interests. Today, we’ve reached a point where the goal of representation has transformed into the goal of re-election. Imagine the following scenario:
My constituents ask me to write a request for a $600 million government loan to subsidize a new factory dedicated to US manufacturing, a factory that will create jobs and future opportunities for college graduates. As I am constructing the bill, a neighboring Congressman wanders over and asks me for my support of his $74 billion dollar defense project, one which will employ thousands in his district and guarantee him the next election. He is willing to offer me co-sponsorship of his bill and will have his campaign kick down some serious dollars toward my re-election in exchange for my support. The caveat: He needs me to forego the $600 million for my district so he can use those funds for his project. At the cost of more jobs for my district and the cost of my constituents’ livelihood, I give up my project to ensure my re-election. When campaign season rolls around, I’m going to puff out my chest and brag about working with my fellow colleagues and how my support has helped employ thousands of Americans, laughing all the while as my campaign coffers fill with checks from special interest groups.
The arrogance of power has destroyed the dream of the Founding Fathers. Did you know, that in order to maintain their anonymity, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton used the pseudonym Publius to sign the Federalist papers. Imagine: politicians sacrificing publicity for the public benefit. It’s almost unthinkable today.
Seems to me, the biggest problem in Washington is the politicians’ belief that they not representatives, but leaders. They will abandon their constituents in favor of their own personal principles, and thus become slaves to external forces like lobbyists or corporations or private donors. What we really need are some people who understand that the role of representatives is representation.
1.a person or thing that represents another or others.
See anything about self-interest in there? Read anything about protecting one’s professional role when it conflicts with one’s representative responsibilities? In my opinion, the role of a representative is to educate his/her constituents, to offer point and counterpoint and argue the merits of the positions, and finally, to listen and respect the voice of the people who put him/her in office. The sad reality is that our representatives believe the public was smart enough to elect them into office, but not smart enough to make decisions for itself. To me, the solution is simple: If they can’t respect the voice of the people they represent, then they are not entitled to represent us. Perhaps it is time for a new generation of Congressional folks, ones who will do their job. Alas, 18 days will tell the story.