I am not sure how it happened, but somehow I made it onto Scott Rigell’s “Wisdom of the District” email list. Every week or so he sends out a short poll, asking district members to contribute their opinions about the issues at hand.
If you are interested in taking the poll, please follow this link, but I am copying the contents of the poll to this post:
Americans are fed up with Washington and rightly so. With painful news coming from seemingly every direction, from unemployment to skyrocketing debt, the dysfunction of our nation’s legislative body is now so severe that the future of every American is threatened.
Which of the following do you think would be the most effective way of reforming Congress?
a. Term limits to bring new people, new energy, and new ideas to Congress.
b. Pension Reform to discourage career politicians.
c. Committee Reform to break down the hierarchal system that is counterproductive to moving new legislation and hold meaningful, effective hearings.
d. Budget Process Reform to streamline the process, cut excessive spending and help weed out unwarranted funding.
e. Another answer. If you selected “Another answer”, enter your answer.
Well, you guys know me; of course I had another answer! The entirety of the poll bothered me in so many ways. Ways which I will not fail to explain in detail.
But first, I am sure you are dying to hear my alternative solution. This is what I sent in as my response:
The best way to reform Congress is to work to increase voter turnout. If Senators and Representatives are held accountable for their actions in the polls and America becomes more civically engaged, the whole political process will work much more efficiently.
Unfortunately, I thought a character limit would kick before I was able to articulate exactly why I thought all the other solutions would not be effective or of benefit to the political process, but now I am under no such restraints.
There already are built in term limits. They are called, “The Next Election.” If the public wants a new person, new energy, or new ideas, all they have to do is elect them. However, if the people are satisfied with the performance of their elected leaders, satisfied with their ideas and energy, why would you want to stifle that? Let us keep in mind that new is not always better, and oftentimes it is inexperienced. New can be refreshing, but it can also lead to unnecessary slow downs and inefficiencies, such as spending more time meeting people and building relationships than actually focusing on issues.
I admit that I am not sure whether or not members of Congress have reasonable pensions. If their pensions are unreasonably high, then yes, I think they should be checked. If their pensions are too low, then they should be raised. What I think is the bigger question, however, is why career politicians are a negative thing for the country to be discouraged? Why should we not want to take care of the people who have dedicated their lives too serving their districts, often passing up more lucrative careers in the private sector? Should we not be doing everything we can to encourage such service and dedication? Do we not want to be attracting (and fairly compensating) the best and brightest civically engaged minds? Or would you rather offer insultingly low salaries and benefits, attracting instead the dregs of the barrel, the lowest of the low, the unmotivated, selfish people with nowhere else to turn? Personally, I prefer the best and brightest, and if that means offering great healthcare and pension plans, and free parking tickets, then so be it.
On this point I would like more proof. I mean honestly, since when are hierarchies necessarily inefficient? Are not most businesses hierarchical? (And yes, it is hierarchical, not hierarchal. Let’s use our English, please). For one so fond of the free market system and the business model, you seem quick to diverge from following it. Is there something about the particular structure of Congress? I really would like to know. To be fair, as a society we seem to be moving away from the masculine desire for hierarchies, towards the more feminine desire for decentralized and loose, ever-changing networks.
(If my throwing in the mention of masculine and feminine bothers you, I apologize for not being able to explain it in greater detail at the moment. Keep your eyes open for a post about masculine and feminine conceptualizations of war, or try to obtain a copy of Carol Cohn’s article “The Relevance of Gender for Eliminating Weapons of Mass Destruction.”)
Budget Process Reform
I think this question is where Rigell gives himself away. The option is so ambiguous it can be used to justify any kind of budget reform. If most people chose this option, he would turn around and say, “See, my district agrees with me: we need to cut healthcare programs and cut government spending on anything that does not help businesses (and business owners) make more money.” When really, selecting this answer does nothing of the sort. So, Rigell, if you want me to choose this option, you need to be more specific. What do you define as excessive spending? How would you define unwarranted funding? Because I see excessive funding of the military. (Yes, and I know all of my military friends and family will be upset with me for saying so. I just feel like the military tends to be very inefficient and there are better ways to prevent and fight wars than having a massive, inefficient military complex). I doubt Rigell would agree with me on that point. I also see putting money towards off-shore drilling, rather than towards developing sustainable, renewable resources, as unwarranted. Again, I think Rigell would disagree. Yet, despite our lack of agreement, we would both be likely to select this option as a method of Congressional reform. For that reason I could not select this option and instead did some considering of my own.
My path to Congressional reform: pay them more (making it worth their while to do a good job and stay in office) and make them more accountable. Inform the population of how and whether candidates uphold the promises they make and motivate the population to vote. Also, make sure that the population is well-informed of current affairs and issues as well as the bigger picture. This may require media and educational reform. Clearly it is a long process, not something that can be summarized in a poll or a soundbite. Congressional reform requires a long-term (think in terms of decades for me) plan that attacks the problem from all sides.
Also, last time I answered a Wisdom of the District question, I got a long-winded email reply explaining why he voted how he did. If I get another such email, rest assured that I will not hesitate to share it with you. And tear it to shreds if I feel so inclined.