This post has been created to allow comments about Democrats at Work to be made in a relevant context. Drop those comments like Weiner drops his pants. Drop them hard like…um…best not to go there.
While congress has a rather low approval rating, the members of congress do not seem very inclined to do much to change this. One obvious reason is that most members of congress know that they will be re-elected despite the overall low approval ratings. As such, they have little incentive to change their behavior.
The folks in congress, like most politicians, have two main goals. The first is to get re-elected. The second is to profit from their office. Unfortunately, the chances of a member of congress being re-elected does not seem to be strongly connected to actual job performance. Rather, the main factors seem to be party affiliation, financial resources, the gerrymandering of the district, and political connections. This means that incumbents will tend to be re-elected. There have been, of course, some notable exceptions to this general rule. For example, some Tea Party candidates were able to get elected and, of course, Weiner’s actions cost his his seat in Congress. However, the electoral success of the Tea Party did not result in an improvement in Americans’ approval of congress-quite the opposite in fact. Part of this is no doubt due to the hyper-partisanship that marks today’s congress and has preventing the usual political process of compromise. Part of this is due to the fact that the Republicans seem to be devoted to beating Obama rather than actually doing what should be done for the good of the country. Part of this is also due to the fact that the Democrats seem to be unwilling to take decisive action. In any case, congress is doing a terrible job, yet we keep re-hiring most of them year after year. Or, more accurately, they are able to do what it takes to stay in office while, at the same time, not doing what it takes to be seen as actually accomplishing things.
I would like to make a few modest proposals.
First, I would suggest term limits. While the term limit on the presidency was set to keep a specific president from getting another term, term limits do seem to have some merit in that they enable more turnover and reduced the concentration (and hence abuse) of power. On the minus side, term limits would prevent the most experienced members from returning (although they could go on to other careers). However, the good of such limits would seem worth the cost.
Second, I would suggest somewhat longer terms for those in congress. This would allow them to be less locked into focusing on re-election and more focused on doing things.
Third, I would suggest an end to gerrymandering. While there are some arguments in favor of this practice, CNN’s recent piece on the matter shows that the harms of the practice seem to clearly outweigh the alleged benefits. The end of this practice would mean that the folks in congress would need to work harder to earn their re-elections.
Fourth, I would recommend that there be strict spending limits on campaigns and that these limits be set rather low. This would help offset the advantage of incumbents and would change the focus away from raising money (and also reduce the amount of corruption). Naturally, there would need to be a way to compensate for this-such as “free” air time for the candidates.
Fifth, I would also suggest strict limits on donations and the elimination of super PACS. Corporations would be able to donate, but this would also need to be limited and such donations would need to be a matter of public record. This would not interfere with free speech-after all, everyone would be able to express their views-they just would not be able to buy politicians. After all, if spending money is free speech, then simply buying politicians would seem to be free speech.
Sixth, I would suggest that all lobbying must be a matter of public record-the public has a right to know what their elected officials are being offered in return for their services. This does not impeded freedom of speech-after all, freedom of speech does not warrant a freedom to corrupt and bribe.
Seventh, strict restrictions need to be placed on how members of congress can profit from their offices. This would include limits on gifts and put an end to insider trading. I would even be for a wealth cap on members of congress (the excess would be contributed to the budget, preferably for things they vote for)-after all, they should lead the way when calling for sacrifices from the American people.
Does anyone have any other ideas?
After dragging out the tragic drama, Anthony Weiner finally decided to resign his position. This puts him in stark contrast with fellow New Yorker Chris Lee. After his shirtless-photo-Craigslist scandal, Lee promptly resigned.
Weiner’s career-ending injury was, of course, self-inflicted. As I have said before, the fatal blow was not his virtual infidelity. It was, of course, his decision to launch a prolonged campaign of deceit. If he had simply admitted to his behavior, then he would have been regarded as creepy but he might have not have been pushed to resign. Without the attempted cover up, the bump in his briefs would have probably been a brief bump in his career.
It might be argued that his virtual misdeed would be sufficient grounds for his resignation. After all, Chris Lee resigned after attempting to have an affair. This does have a certain appeal. After all, a member of congress is supposed to serve the interests of his district and he cannot do his job properly if he is caught up in a scandal. This does have considerable appeal. To use an analogy, many jobs (including my own) restrict the outside employment that an employee can undertake. The reason is, of course, that outside employment can interfere with the primary job. While being caught up in a scandal is not a job, it can have the same effect by consuming far too much time and focus. Of course, if the person is able to keep the scandal from impacting his duties, then this argument would fail in that case.
It can also be argued that members of congress who cannot keep their own members under control are unfit for office. This falls under the general question of what sort of unethical behavior (or violation of social norms) would be grounds for expecting a member of congress to resign.
One obvious answer is to refer to the rules specified by congress. As with any job, there are conditions of employment and these set the limits of allowed behavior. Provided that these limits are not violated, then there would seem to be a lack of justification to expect a resignation-even when the person behaves in ways that are regarded as inappropriate or even unethical. For example, a university professor cannot be fired merely for having an affair. Naturally, having an affair with a co-worker or student could be grounds for dismissal, but not because it is an affair.
Naturally enough, if a resignation is expected, this often means that there are not actual grounds for kicking the person out As far as I know, inappropriate (but not illegal) sexual behavior is not grounds for being given the boot from congress. Lying, except for the obvious case of doing so under oath, also does not seem to be against the rules. If it were, then the House and Senate would be rather empty.
Obviously enough, people are sometimes expected to resign even when they have not actually violated the rules. In the case of politicians, this seems to most often happen in cases involving sex. This, not surprisingly, reflects America’s rather unhealthy obsessions regarding sex.
It can be argued that politicians who are involved in sex scandals that do not break the relevant rules should still be pushed to resign. This could be done on ethical grounds. While we tend to regard politicians as an unethical lot, we still expect them to behave in ways we consider appropriate when it comes to sex and regard such violations as unethical. A rather appealing argument is that if a married politician will betray his wife, then he cannot be trusted and hence should leave office.
An obvious reply is that as long as the politician has not actually acted in ways that are relevant to his job, then his betrayal of his wife is not relevant. After all, a man can be relentlessly unfaithful to his wife and still be very competent and capable in his job.
Another appealing argument is that if a politician is engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior and has tried to conceal it, then it would seem reasonable to suspect that he might be up to other misdeeds and concealing them. The obvious reply is that such behavior (provided that it does not cross over into the criminal realm) is not actually relevant to job performance and the person’s competence. After all, I suspect that most married men are involved in some degree of what would be considered inappropriate behavior, yet they are able to function in their jobs.
In Weiner’s case, his resignation does seem to be the right thing to do. The scandal has reduced his ability to represent his district and he has shown that he has rather serious flaws in regards to ethics and judgment. He should, of course, have the chance to redeem himself. However, he needs to do this on his own time.