How Career Politicians Are Crippling American's Legislature
There have been over one hundred congress men and women (mostly members of the House of Representative that have served for over 36 years (18 representative terms) in the 20th century alone. This is not the result of tenure conferring increased efficacy upon politically savvy incumbents but rather the result of a number of other factors, none of which supply us with elected officials that are more empathetic toward their constituents' needs or more progressive in their governing proclivities.
Congressional salaries hover in the high $170,000 annually and yet these incumbents pay millions of dollars of party PAC money to secure their reelection. This pecuniary discrepancy is explicable by two important facts; Firstly, congressional salaries are but a pittance of the earning opportunities afforded by election to public office. Speaking fees, books, and access to insider trading information situates them to make millions every year. And they capitalize on these opportunities.
Further, it is to the Political advantage of the party to retain unscrupulous, malleable members who will fall in line with partisan ideologies and subsequently be counted upon to support particular agendas. This partisan imperative spurs on super PAC's to contribute millions of dollars of untraceable money to indirectly influence campaigns. By so doing they assure a surplus of politicians both indebted to specific corporate interests and sympathetic to the corporation friendly legislation that promotes unfettered and destructive capitalism.
One way by which incumbent remain in office is through Gerrymandering.
The process of gerrymandering takes a considerable amount of power out of the hands of the public through the intentional redrawing of congressional distracts so as to favor one party or the other. Political systems with a small number of parties (like the U.S.) are particularly vulnerable to this process.
Through redistricting by the incumbent party they can virtually assure their reelection. The U.K., Canada, and Australia use non-partisan organizations to draw their districts thus eliminating the heavy advantage an incumbent can allocate himself through careful inclusion and exclusion of certain cultural minorities and majorities in their own district. Through the process of redistricting a few political elite can either pack many parcels of areas containing the voter demographics they feel will favor their platform or crack up an area containing a demographic that is hostile toward their agenda so that it falls into many different districts. This manipulation is known as Packing and Cracking, respectively.
Of all the Politically nefarious practices in the U.S. this is the most common and the most blatant and bold faced affront to Democracy.
Office Budget Allotments and On The Job Publicity
One considerable advantage that an incumbent has over any challenger is not only the support of their respective party's PAC but an office budget that allows them to travel freely and frequently between Washington and their district. By this continual travel they are able to stay visible and to appear sympathetic to their constituents. They also enjoy a postal charge exemption allowing them to send an unlimited amount of correspondence to their constituents. By this barrage of mail they are able to keep their name fresh in the minds' of the populace they represent and also able to frame their political actions in the most favorable, if not distorted, light possible.
What's more, the daily functions of Congressional service, consists much more of radio and Television appearances, being present at press covered events and communicating with their constituents, than it does actually debating and voting on Bills while in Congressional session. Any political challengers, unless they come from Political family dynasties, often have to go in to debt simply to make there name recognizable to voters. Incumbents are able to spend on average around three times the money on a campaign than their challengers are able to procure and spend.
But What's Wrong With Career Politicians?
Some might argue that career politicians have learned how to handle their job requisites, that they have acquired the necessary skills to negotiate bureaucratic red tape, and know how to navigate the political waters: they have learned the skills of legislation and acquired a greater job efficiency and efficacy and that this is preferable to a new Congressman taking the incumbent's place. A first term representative having to acclimate to the pragmatic necessities of the job and to the atmosphere of Washington requires a time consuming orientation in an age when time is at a premium.
While this is certainly true, we must consider this against the corrupting influences of long-term service as a legislator. The longer one remains within the legislative paradigm the more entrenched in one of the two divisive bi-partisan agendas one becomes. As politicians deal increasingly with lobbyists the bright colors of their idealism presumably fade. As they continually become more and more indebted to PAC money their Political interests become infected by the figurative toxin of corporate interests that accrue to emaciate the EPA, thus allowing the further spread of literal toxins into our air and water.
Particularly in The House of Representatives, with it's short two year term limit, business as usual quickly becomes securing reelection instead of legislating in the public interest. Since every other year is a re-election year we get political posturing and divisive rhetoric at a much higher frequency than we do actual legislating. Considering the absurd amount of money and time spent this past year in many races lower than the presidency, this allows for a cogent argument to adopt the U.K. campaign structure. The members of the House of Commons are allowed to campaign for two weeks with no television ads, thus leaving them time to perform the work entrusted to them.
Even if this is untenable (and it probably is considering the financially interested parties that involve themselves in elections) a term limit for Senators and Representatives alike would rid us of the blight of Career Politicians. If a term limit existed amongst the congressional body perhaps the focus would shift from, "How can I retain this position while accruing a maximum amount of wealth?" to, "What can I do to be remembered?" The impetus behind political action would no longer be a fear of rocking the boat but rather the desire to make waves.