We are currently experiencing an environment where ‘politics’ is a career. Many politicians start locally and pursue ever more responsible elected positions. In particular once a politician reaches Washington they seem to stay. They seem to be consumed with maintaining their political power. This means huge amounts of time fund raising, cultivating donors, soliciting support in return for political favors, and negotiating deals with lobbyists and the political elite. For these individuals the first priority is political survival, and not the broad common interests of the nation. This is a huge negative for the democracy. The negative impact comes from two directions.
First, the founding fathers of our democracy did not envision career politicians when they defined the democracy with the constitution. Quite the contrary they envisioned well meaning citizens taking a pause in their careers to serve in government. It was this concept that was to ensure a strong connection between our representatives, the governing, with the citizens back home, the governed. There is no ‘overhead’ of time and money to be spent on ensuring reelection and personal political growth.
Second, the competition for political power has created a contest environment. There are ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ instead of discussion and compromise to address the nations needs. Winning seems to be the highest priority. Aiding the adversary with a compromise is seen as unacceptable. ‘Party uber alles’ seems to be the operative motto, with personal advancement the ultimate goal. Democracy without compromise is an oxymoron.
Given this problematic condition how do we change it? The answer seems to be de-incentivizing a political career. The straight forward approach to this is to impose term limits. This is not a new idea. It has been proposed and debated over the years but never seriously considered. (See – A time for congressional term limits | TheHill) The length of the limit is open for debate. There needs to be a balance between the need for political experience and growing pressure for political success and reelection.
Fundraising for any endeavor, but particularly a political campaign is very time consuming. Mandatory public funding, whole or in part, is needed to reduce this pressure. This, if coupled with mandatory campaign time duration such as practiced in Great Britain, would also help. In Britian the actual campaign duration is one month. This is extreme given were we are today in the US. However, a move in this direction may well be what is required.
The reality is that both of these remedies, term limits and public campaign funding, require congressional action. Given the cadre of career politicians currently in Washington, this is a tall order indeed. The answer is that it will take time – time to debate the problem and time to elect the progressive thinking representatives that can and will support such change. Despite the difficulty, we must get on this track.