Friday, October 21, 2011

MONEY AND POLITICS

The folks milling around Wall Street are now talking about a national assembly in Philadelphia on July 4th.

They want 870 people – half men and half women – to gather there and draw up a list of grievances to be presented to the Congress, the President and the Supreme Court.

The 870 delegates, it seems, are to be chosen at mass meetings in each congressional district.

So in politics, as in war, the ultimate weapon is boots on the ground.

But boots cost money. Mass meetings have to be organized. And organizers can be hired.

The chicken and egg puzzle of politics: which comes first, the people or the money?

The Wall Street demonstrators seem to have spawned a cadre of anonymous leaders who put up their websites and presume to speak for the masses.

They have drawn up a list of suggested grievances, which will affect the public impression of what their national assembly might do. Candidly, it looked to me to be a Blue State platform, replete with federal spending programs and environmental concerns.

One example: they would outlaw all campaign contributions for federal offices. Presumably that would include individuals, corporations, committees and political parties.

They want all campaigns financed by the federal government. Bad idea. REAL bad idea. If the goal is to entrench career politicians in office, there’s no better way to do it than to let the incumbents decide who gets the campaign money and how much they get.

I don’t know anybody, liberal or conservative, who approves of the way money influences our national politics today. The unholy alliance between K Street lobbyists, corporate cronies and members of Congress as detailed in Professor Larry Lessig’s book, Republic, Lost, is the subject of all kinds of books, blogs and banter on the Internet.

Here’s my take: America has gotten too big for the Capital Building in Washington D.C.

Congress decided to cap the House of Representatives at 435 people in 1913.
We were a nation of 97,225,000 in 1913. Today we are over 312,000,000. Congressional districts average 700,000 constituents.

Bringing a message to 700,000 constituents cost money. Lots of money. Television. Postage. Staff. A campaign for Congress is a big, expensive operation.

And, obviously, a campaign for the Senate is even bigger. And more expensive.

The Founding Fathers set the number of people in a congressional district at 30,000. They could only see down the road as far as 50,000. Maybe that’s where it should have stopped. In a republic of 300 million people, having six thousand representatives doesn’t sound like too much democracy.

Candidates in small districts can go door to door. They can meet their constituents, see them, listen to them, speak to them and speak for them.

The six thousand wouldn’t have to go to Washington. In the 21st century they can assemble on the Internet. The can debate on the Internet. They can vote on the Internet. No big salaries, offices or staffs.

And if Wikipedia doesn’t have as many books as the Library of Congress, at least it’s easier to use.

Much of what Americans don’t like about our government boils down to the culture inside the beltway. Career politicians. A ruling class of elites who talk only to each other. An incomprehensible mumbo jumbo of alphabet soup. Abbreviations and acronyms that separate the insiders from the rest of the people.

Keeping Congress members at home would go a long way toward keeping our government responsive to the voters.

And it’s a lot harder to lobby 6,000 spread all over the country than to buy off 435 in one city.

2 comments:

  1. In the alternative, what if we created a system where the money didn't matter?

    What if there was a way to change the current conundrum of every spending bill requiring an even larger spending bill that lead to even more government and even less freedom for our people?

    What happens when you fundamentally change the nature of the game so that the lobbyists on K-Street are rendered immaterial?

    What happens when every single dime of government spending is made to be free of waste, fraud and abuse?

    What if we were to do that....

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  2. Good point. A large part of the problem stems from the fact that Washingtom doles out so much money.

    Obviously, if Congress gets truly frugal, and turns off the spigot, the lobbyists would go away.

    That's not likely to happen without some very big structural changes such as I described in the blog.

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