You would be hard pressed to find anyone that thinks that there is NO corruption in Washington and unfortunately it has become so enmeshed in our culture that most people just shrug their shoulders and say “what can you do?” Both parties are equally culpable here and neither party really wants to take any action to end the gravy train. The salaries of our elected officials in Washington currently range from $174,000 to $454,000 per year plus significant benefits.
Released this week was information on the price of access to the President:
“Talk about a bargain. Organizing for Action, the new name of the Obama campaign team, is selling access to the president for $500,000. Donors who give or raise that amount get a seat on an advisory board and four meetings a year with Dear Leader. That’s big bucks, but I think the White House is selling its man cheap — think million-dollar package. For that, donors should get dinner with the president and first lady and, as a bonus, a stern lecture on the evils of wealth.” (Fox)
While discussing those benefits is entirely relevant to this discussion, significant details would unfortunately take a multi-part series to discuss. On top of the pay and significant benefits is the additional income that elected officials earn as a direct result of holding federal office, but most relevant here are the “salaries for life” which are detailed above (the numbers portrayed in the graphic above are inconsistent with official government publications found here but the point remains the same that there are significant post service benefits) . We have created an entire culture where “gaming the system” has become rampant and created incredible wealth for individuals theoretically undertaking “public service.” 261 members of Congress as well as the President and Vice President are millionaires and it takes $100,000,000 to crack the top ten. (U.S. Government Info) My simple first step to reducing corruption in Washington, end all pension and post office benefits and allow one person to hold the same office for no more than two terms. There are really no credible arguments against either of these proposals, but of course they will never happen unless we, as a people demand that they happen.
New Secretary of State and Former Senator John Kerry’s Wealth is estimated at about $200,000,000
It wasn’t always this way, though the Founding Fathers were worried what we see today in Washington might happen:
“Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.” – Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson)
“The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.” – James Madison (American Presidents)
“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with the power to endanger the public liberty.” – John Adams (Hickory)
“The people must remain ever vigilant against tyrants masquerading as public servants.” – George Washington (12 Is Enough)
The Founding Fathers imagined a Congress of citizen legislators. James Madison described the ideal representative as one “called for the most part from pursuits of a private nature and continued in appointment for a short period of office.” (Federalist Papers) George Mason stated further, “Nothing so strongly impels a man to regard the interest of his constituents, as the certainty of returning to the general mass of the people, from whence he was taken, where he must participate in their burdens.” (Mark’s Quotes) Jefferson defended his position in favor of Congressional term limits with: “My reason for fixing them in office for a term of years, rather than for life, was that they might have an idea that they were at a certain period to return into the mass of the people and become the governed instead of the governors which might still keep alive that regard to the public good that otherwise they might perhaps be induced by their independence to forget.” (Jefferson)
The Founding Fathers believed that the very essence of fair and responsible legislation relied upon the premise that those making the laws would soon return to their normal lives to live under the laws they created. When one spends decades as a member of the ruling class, he or she will lose sight of what it means to be a regular citizen. The Founders recognized term limits as the best way to avoid this situation and the dangerous legislation that may result from it – and the same holds true today. In one of the most concise statements supporting the need for term limits in order to preserve American ideals, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton agreed, “The security intended to the general liberty consists in the frequent election and in the rotation of the members of Congress.” (Shouting Majority)
Whichever party you support, the one thing that I would hope that we can all agree on is that business as usual is not working. We have to look really, really hard to find folks in Washington that anyone feels is a true public servant looking out for our national interests instead of their own. I would be really worried if Abraham was sent to Washington today instead of Sodom and Gomorrah and fear the result might be the same.
How do we fix things? We take away Washington as a gateway to wealth. Two terms in any office and you are done. No lingering benefits to make it the “ultimate payday” that it has become today. Is this approach naive? Of course. Will it ever happen? Probably not because I think that while the American people like to whine and complain about everything, I think that for now they have lost the collective will to do anything to change their futures. Would this work if my some miracle enough pressure was mounted nationally? I really think that it would.