I had my fill of politics during the four years in which I obtained my degree in Political Science. (A degree, I might add, which I promptly put to good use by becoming a software developer.) The problem with political science is that it is far more political than it is scientific. In fact, there is little about politics which is scientific and that makes it a difficult beast to understand. I used to be interested in politics and what was going on around me, however, over the last few years I have grown increasingly frustrated and disheartened by it, and the recent election and the events since have led me to the (unscientific) conclusion that not much good will come from politicians anytime soon, unless some drastic changes are made to the way politicians and the voters operate. I can think of two steps that will help set things in the right direction:
- Term limits. The argument against term limits is that is prevents good men and women from continuing their service beyond their initial term. The argument for term limits is that is eliminates the “career” politician and in our current state, I think the career politician is one of the most destructive influences we have in government. Politics should not be a career. It is public a public service. We have made it into a career, but with a certain level of willpower, we can unmake it. Term limits across the board are in order, I think. Those people lucky (or unfortunate) enough to be elected should spend their time governing, not running for reelection. The decisions they make in office should be what’s best for all of the country, not just the people who will likely vote for them next term. Setting hard term limits seems to me to be the only way to achieve this. Some might argue that in doing so, we rule out an entire class of potential leaders, but at this point, I am wary of any politician, Democrat or Republican, who wants to make a career out of politics. We need people who are willing to solve problems without much thought (or fear) of reelection. Realistically, of course, this is like the fox guarding the hen house. What politician in their right mind would vote for legislation that would effectively limit their career? The answer to this question highlights the state of our affairs, I think. But for the country to move out of the political stagnation we’ve wandered into, a term limit on politicians at all levels is the only way I see out of the quagmire.
- Education. We have become a nation of issue voters, where typically one issue that has little to do with governing decides an election. This is our own fault of course. If voters were better educated, I think they would make better decisions. But we simply don’t value education the way we should. If we did, we wouldn’t be falling behind in rankings against other nations. Party politics uses hot-button issues to scare voters into thinking that a vote for Candidate A means that you will lose the right to X. A smart voter knows that this isn’t true and they recognize that any politician who depends on votes based on a single issue isn’t one worthy of governing, I don’t care what party they belong to. We all need to be looking out for the big picture. We all need to learn to compromise where compromise is appropriate. Understanding the issues helps. An understanding of history helps. (Nothing we do is unique, it has all happened before in some form or another.) The smarter the voters, the better the politicians we will get.
I’m not optimistic about the next decade or so in U.S. politics. But the pendulum eventually swings back the other way. This are bad and then things are good. It is learning how to control the pendulum that is the trick we have yet to learn, be it the economy or other issues that face us. Either way, a message needs to be sent that we simply will no longer tolerate career politicians making decisions for us. It’s a message that I doubt very much will gain the momentum or visibility it needs, but I see it as one way out of this mess we’re in.
We already have term limits. They’re called elections. The single most powerful thing we could do to re-balance politics in this country is make professional lobbying illegal. Even incoming rookie politicians are quickly corrupted by corporate/lobby/PAC money. Take that out of the equation, and we go back to politicians as public servants without have to remove the benefits that can come from experience.
The problem with elections as they stand is that they encourage winners to spend the bulk of their time running for the next term. If elections were only for one term, the winners could focus on governing as opposed to running. I completely agree with you about outlawing professional lobbying, and I even wrote about it a few years back. My suggestion there tries to avoid infringement of first amendment free speech rights, but I don’t know if it would work. Right now, though, I’m willing to risk the benefit of experience for people who will actually try to govern.