Our current system of representation in Washington is flawed. We need to make a change. I'm making this recommendation in the hope that people might contemplate how we're MISrepresented in Washington.
I think it's safe to say the majority of American people do not trust our politicians in Washington. Pick a poll on the Internet - there's hundreds of them. Fine - I'll pick a few polls:
1. Respondents of a Mondo Times Poll in 2002 were asked if they trust politicians. Yes = 9%. No = 86%. Not sure = 4%.
2. China conducted a poll in 2009 that showed the Chinese people trust prostitutes more than they trust their own politicians. Washington's Blog repeated that survey: Who Do You Trust More - Prostitutes or Elected Officials? 281 people responded. Here are the results:
46% chose prostitutes. 0% picked elected officials. 6% said it depends on whether the prostitutes are in a state which has legalized - and regulates - prostitution. And finally, 45% said, "there's a difference?"
3. The BBC conducted a 2008 poll asking, "Which do you trust the least?" 46% = the government, 26% = the media
4. A recent Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that when it comes to important national issues, 73% of adults nationwide trust the judgment of the American people more than that of America’s political leaders. And by a two-to-one margin, voters believe that no matter how bad things are, Congress can always make them worse.
5. GfK’s 2009 Trust Index showed that politicians were on the bottom of the list with an 18% trust factor, while firefighters were at the top (92%), as were teachers (85%).
6. A Topix poll (I don't have the year but it wasn't that old) asked “who do you trust least of all?” #1 was politicians (52%), #2 was France (12%).
7. Finally, Glamour.com polled its readers in 2009, asking “would you ever date a politician?” 67% said "no".
OK. So no one trusts politicians. My solution? Click on READ MORE! and find out.
First - a little backstory. In 1826, famed American folk hero, frontiersman and soldier, Davy Crockett, was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He was defeated in 1830, then re-elected in 1832. Congressman Crockett stated, "I bark at no man's bid. I will never come and go, and fetch and carry, at the whistle of the great man in the White House no matter who he is."
In 1833, former president John Quincy Adams recorded in his diary an encounter with Crockett (while Adams was serving in Congress following his presidency), whom he quotes as saying that he (Crockett) "had taken for lodgings two rooms on the first floor of a boarding-house, where he expected to pass the winter and to have for a fellow-lodger Major Jack Downing, the only person in whom he had any confidence for information of what the Government was doing."
It was during his service in Congress that Crockett delivered the famous, "Not Yours To Give" speech, which you may read here. In his speech, Crockett was critical of his Congressional colleagues who were willing to spend taxpayer dollars to help a widow of a US Navy man who had lived beyond his naval service, but would not contribute their own salary. There's no way to prove this speech is actually attributed to Crockett; however, there is evidence that the House considered a bill (referenced in Crockett's speech) that Congressman Crockett was on record of opposing in 1828.
In 1834, Crockett suffered another Congressional defeat. He said, "I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not ... you may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas." Crockett left for Texas and died at the Alamo in 1836.
So we know elected officials in Washington weren't trusted by at least one member of Congress in the 1830's. And we know people don't trust elected officials in the 21st Century.
On top of this trust issue, our representatives in Washington draw a retirement pension that is considerably higher than the average American worker’s pension (minimum of 5 year’s service nets them no more than 80% of their salary), their health care coverage is completely different than anything the general public has access to or will have access to in the future (politicians pay no deductible and no co-pay – until death – with no geographical restrictions) and their social security plan is different. Many of them don’t even pay income tax. Who wouldn’t be tempted into seeing the allure of a career in politics?
Candidates make campaign promises + We elect them to represent those promises (and our views) in Washington + Our taxes help to pay their salaries = Said representatives pander to lobbyists and special interest groups, resulting in politicians' votes in exchange for monies to fill the said politicians’ re-election coiffures. This leads to corruption on multi-levels (inside and outside government) and a loss of integrity for the elected position. Said elected official remains in office until he or she retires or dies. Period. No big revelation there. That word – “said”…reminds me of politicians. They SAY they’ll do this; they SAY they’ll do that. Trouble is they never really SAY anything worthwhile. Sad.
You may have heard of GOOOH or “Get Out Of Our House”, a non-partisan plan to replace every politician in Washington with Joe the Plumber, Butch the Farmer and Jeff the Actor & Playwright, Blogger & Photographer, Outdoorsman & Brett Favre fan. I just found out about it a couple days ago after I started writing this blog post. Sounds fairly radical, doesn't it? My idea is similar.
Gary Cooper in "Meet John Doe" (1941).
My solution – The People’s Republic Ombudsman Party (I’ll call it “PRO” for the sake of this discussion). The plan: replace half of each state’s career politicians in Washington (both in the Senate and the House) with “John Doe’s” – John Doe the housewife, John Doe the Salesman, John Doe the Barber. Representatives from all walks of life. A John Doe grassroots movement (akin to the movie, “Meet John Doe”). Whenever the concept of having an Everyman hold political office is discussed, one of the first arguments brought up by dissenters is that Joe Blow (or John Doe) has no political experience – no budget planning, no public speaking, no agenda setting, no political savvy know-how whatsoever. My rationale for keeping half the number of career politicians per state in Washington is so they’re able to act as mentors to the PRO party members, guiding them through the introduction of bills, voting procedures, Parliamentary Procedure, etc.
Before I proceed, let me clear up a couple definitions. “Republic” refers to a representative democracy (elected officials who represent the people) as termed by our Founding Fathers. In modern political science, “republicanism” refers to a specific ideology based on “civic virtue” – a cultivation of habits of personal living that are claimed to be important for the success of the community. The Boy Scouts of America oath, for example, promotes civic virtue. “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my Country and to obey the Scout law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.” Sound like a politician’s oath to you? Incidentally, all senators and congressmen swear an oath to the U.S. Constitution, yet they break that oath daily.
And “ombudsman” is a person who acts as a trusted intermediary between an organization and some internal or external constituency while representing the broad scope of constituent interests. U.S. Congresspersons have long performed the unofficial function of an ombudsman, at the federal level, but the task became time consuming. Its criticism was largely based on the fact that it interfered with a legislator's primary duty – to read and be knowledgeable about a bill before casting his or her vote.
So why not relieve the career politician of these ombudsman duties and have the two work together – the career politician and John Doe, while combining aspects of “republic” and “civic virtue”? This approach establishes an added series of checks and balances so that career politicians aren’t wholly compromised by extraneous motivations (all forms of corruption, monies, political gain) and stay the course of working for their constituents – not for their careers.
Executive secretaries can assist the limited-term PRO party members in the day-to-day running of each candidate’s office (just like they do with career politicians). In the event a state has an odd number of Senators or Representatives, the odd man out is a PRO party member (to keep the career politicians honest). This way, the career politicians can’t gang up and out vote the PRO party members. More specifics:
- PRO party members are limited to 2-year terms, at which time they are replaced with new PRO party members.
- PRO party members are elected by the public, after which they go through a rigorous confirmation hearing headed up by the state governor and other non-political persons selected by the governor. PRO party members do not campaign or spend money on campaigning. The public can go to a Internet site to find information on each prospective PRO party candidate. I’m certainly flexible on how the PRO party members are chosen, as long as the public has a vote in the matter and there’s no campaigning.
- In the case of PRO party members, there must be an equal ratio of members who are polar opposites in political philosophy – a mix of moderates, conservatives and liberals.
- To avoid constituents crying unfair/unbalanced representation in their districts, the career politician and the PRO party member represent the same district.
- PRO party members’ job description reads exactly as their career politician counterparts. They have identical job duties and responsibilities.
- PRO party members get equivalent pay, as well as all other benefits awarded a first-year Congressman or Senator.
- PRO party members are guaranteed to return to their previous job prior to completion of their public service.
- If a PRO party member is guilty of misconduct while in office, they are extricated and face legal action, like their career politician counterpart.
FACT: Most Americans do not trust their politicians. FACT: The vast majority of politicians ARE career politicians.
Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939).
When you consider 400+ varied groups are lobbying for the attention of your elected officials in the hopes of getting votes and making campaign donations, tell me how these career politicians can serve the best interests of their constituency? How can one man serve two masters? Wait – you can. A man can have a wife and a whore. I guess politicians can as well.
It’s a common adage that there are two things in life we can count on: death and taxes. If we as American citizens won’t demand term limitations for politicians; if we as American citizens won’t demand that our politicians work in Washington for the people and not for lobbyists, not for self-serving back-door deals, not for job security and not for perks such as plane travel, liquor and parties, top tier health care and pension plans – then neither “hope” nor “change” brought by the Obama administration or any future administration will change the status quo. Party politics, political red tape and gridlock and corruption will remain the norm. And the John Doe's and Mr. Smith’s of the political arena will do little to affect positive change unless change comes from a unified front.
President Obama recently commented to Washington politicians that if they are going to disagree with his proposed legislation, do it based on PRINCIPLE, not based on partisan politics. With all due respect, Mr. President, I don't think you'll find much principle in Washington. And what you’re asking – it’s never going to happen. Not unless the People’s Republic Ombudsman Party – or something similar – is instituted. Obama promised "hope" and "change" in his presidency. Good stuff - "hope" and "change". Radical thoughts, even.
So is a change in how you and I and generations after us are represented in Washington.