Thursday, February 16, 2012

Striking at the Root

I'm not the first to comment on the influence of money on politics, and I won't be the last, but I'm putting my two cents in. This is not a new problem. Theodore Roosevelt addressed the issue in the early 20th century, but the problem was existent at the founding of our nation. And let's face it, politics has almost always been about the "monied interests", regardless of the period in history or the type of government involved. At our core, we are all animals ( I don't mean that in the pejorative sense) motivated by self-interest - it's perfectly natural. As members of a society, however, we must balance this self-interest with the interest of the common good.

In the last 40 or so years, we have seen several attempts (both successful and failed) to reduce the influence of money in politics. These have been directed, for the most part, at regulations related to campaign contributions and expenditures. These efforts are noble in purpose, but have been rendered toothless in effect. As in professional sports as relates to drug testing, the cheaters are always one step ahead of the authorities. Add to that the intensive, expensive lobbying campaigns to thwart meaningful change, and the influence of said lobbyists to actually rite the legislation, and it's not difficult to understand why significant meaningful change has eluded us.

I simply can't see any way to regain our franchise as citizens without the institution of term limits. I tend to consider myself a "strict constitutionalist", and am loathe to inhibit the exercise of free expression; however, we've already opened that door with the adoption of the 22nd Amendment. The strict constitutionalist and annual reader of the Federalist Papers in me believes in the concept of the citizen/politician: serve your country and go back to your farm. Politics was once considered an unsavory arena and a less-than-admirable way to make one's way in the world; it has become the yellow brick road to riches.

None of this will change as long as the first order of business for newly-elected congresspeople is to begin raising money and preparing for re-election. Money directs the conversation, the legislation and the outcome. I have to believe that eliminating the financial pressure/inducement might allow good citizens to make decisions in the public interest. If a President may only serve two elected terms, how about a limit of one term for the Senate and two terms for the House? And no double-dipping! A wonderful congressperson could find myriad other ways to continue their service via some other meaningful avenue after reaching their limit in Congress...if they were truly interested in service.

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