"I'm running for office because I want to serve the people..."
...and other Fairy Tales
By Ric Wasley
July 31, 2017
Once upon a time, there was a person who loved his country and fellow citizens so much that he wanted to do something totally selfless to ‘give back’ to the land that had provided freedom and opportunity. So he (or she) decided to run for office. And after a clean and civil campaign in which he made no extravagant promises and eschewed all donations from divisive special interest groups, he was elected. He served faithfully and fixed the problems that were troubling the people, and when his term as up, he left office and went back to being a private citizen - proud of the fact that he had performed a public service for his country without any thought of personal gain.
And they all lived happily ever after. The End.
Now go to bed children.
Yeah…because as we all know - that's a Fairy Tale.
And yet it is actually the what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they set up our system of representative government. Had they known that it would devolve into a system where once elected a politician would have a job for life and retire a millionaire, they would have said, “Forget it. We might as well go back to King George - at least he won’t be in the job to gain wealth and power - he’s already got it."
Think about this. When was the last time you can remember a politician actually keeping a campaign promise and doing something for the electorate rather than lining their own pockets, gaining more power, or voting themselves a pay raise or another benefit?
Oh yes, they know that they have to occasionally toss a plate of pork to unions and special interest groups, but how about something that actually benefits everyone…like Health Care? Yeah, right.
And in case recent floundering events have you puzzled why it seems so difficult for congress to pass any effective plans on health care, remember this. Congress has it’s own excellent private and very comprehensive health plan, along with access to the best doctors, that is paid for by...guess who? Yup - us. So what is their incentive to do anything for those who put them in office? Nothing - except hoping they can make it look like they’re doing something when re-election time rolls around.
There is the crux of the problem. Politicians arrive at the first day on the job with only one goal…getting re-elected. Everything they do is geared towards that goal, and that is the one and only objective that they work tirelessly for.
Why is being elected to and retaining that office so desirable? Is it the satisfaction of serving your country, the people…selflessly sacrificing 'to give back?' Nope. The answer is simple. The two things that have motivated all “politicians and leaders” since the beginning of time: Money and Power.
So then what do “we the people” do to turn elected office from being ‘a job for life’ and a golden goose to be plucked eternally by a bunch of glib con men who would embarrass PT Barnum, into the system that the founders envisioned?
First, recognize what representative government was supposed to be. In ancient Greece and Rome, the founders of the idea of a representative democracy, they put limits in place. Yes - “Term Limits.” Under the Republic a consul was limited to two terms of one year each. So why not limit all offices to a single term of six years. This would allow for a year or two to acclimate and learn the ropes; and elections would be held every year and staggered so that a new crop of freshman legislatures would be starting every year as an equal number would be leaving office. Thus no unkept promises because no re-election. And if you got a really bad one you could have a recall or wait for the term to be up.
As for the old argument that elections impose term limits - that is a myth and we all know it. Once elected, the money generated by selling favors insures that the only way an official can get voted out of office is by sending obscene pictures to underage girls, or being caught red handed with bundles of payoff cash - and often not even then!
While we’re at it, let's apply the six-year limit to all elected and appointed officials - including judges. Right on up to the Supreme Court. We have yet to see much good emerging from judges appointed for life, but we have seen much bad. Likewise for the Deep State bureaucracy. Cut the number in half and rotate them out every 10 years. Scrap the idea of a ‘job for life.' It has never worked out well for those who have to pay for it - us.
Second, the rate of pay in government “service” would be indexed to the average yearly salary of all of the citizens of the United States. So, if the average salary was $50k a year then that would be the same for all elected officials, judges, and public sector employees. So the incentive would be to make sure the average worker is doing well, because your income is tied to theirs. And lest the worry be that only the rich will apply, well if you worked in the post office and made $50k a year, working as a legislature or government employee would net you the same. So the ‘sacrifrice’ of public service would be no more that what you could expect in the private sector. As for legislators who had to live near the seat of government, we could provide each with a modest one- or two-bedroom apartment while in session, and inexpensive meals in a government cafeteria. Remember that the founders envisioned legislating as something you did for finite period as a civic duty - like chairman of the annual town fair - not as a money-making career.
While we’re at it, I think that we all agree that Washington is too isolated from the rest of the country and exists in its own little ‘beltway bubble,' providing a cushy enclave from the real people of America. So let’s get our legislature back out into America. How about moving the congress, not the bureaucracy - just the elected officials - to the middle of the country, to maybe a depressed midwestern city that could use some increased activity? For instance somewhere like Detroit. Lots of very affordable housing for our Senators and Reps, and it will give them a chance to see real problems close up.
Next, let's make sure that ‘we the people’ are actually getting what we pay for. You know how often congress and legislators are referred to as, ‘ lawmakers?' That's a problem, because when was the last time they passed a law that actually benefited you, right?
Usually they benefit some special interest or lobbying group, and when the law does affect everyone, then congress cynically exempts themselves from having to live by it. So how about having no exemptions from any laws they pass? Might that make them more careful about passing “feel good” and special interest laws? Couldn’t hurt.
And finally the most important point, a statute that simply states no office holder would be allowed to leave office wealthier than when they arrived. Remember, these jobs should be based around a desire to give public service, not to gorge at the public trough.
"But wait”, some will say. "If you can’t get rich and accumulate power, talented people will not want to serve.”
To which I reply, the founders who set up our system not only did not care about the pay, they knew that should their revolution fail they would all be hung by the king for treason! How’s that for a non-incentive?
If weeding out the greedy and power-hungry became a side affect, would that be a bad thing?
I believe there are still plenty of Americans who would serve and sacrifice to do good for America - always have been, and always will be.
July 27, 2017
Ric Wasley is a writer and lecturer, as well as the author of the popular McCarthy Mystery Series. Ric has had a 40 year professional career history in advertising, publishing and marketing in Boston, New York and San Francisco. He has degrees in history and psychology and has been trained in debating, public speaking and stage acting. A large part of his 40 year career was spent in numerous professional and business settings as a presenter and featured speaker at seminars and professional meetings. Ric has been a visiting professor at Worcester Polytech Institute. He also teaches a popular course on marketing for authors at prominent venues such as the venerable “Cape Cod Writers Conference.”
Wasley has been involved in both print and broadcast media as well as writing for business and commercial markets for over 30 years and continues to consult for a major media company. In addition to his novels and short stories, he has been published in several literary magazines. Wasley currently divides his time between Boston and his home on Cape Cod where he continues to write, lecture and create worlds where the unexpected thrives.