December 27, 2010 – No, this is not a contemporary update of Jonathan Swift’s work, revised to propose eating bankers (although that is food for thought). My proposal addresses the absurd and useless periodic ritual we subject ourselves to: elections.
By The Cerebral Aesthetic Vagabond
In recent essays I have proposed having government take a one-way vacation out of our lives and a military coup to restore the Constitution. To my astonishment (“What are they thinking?”, I keep imploring myself as I shake my head), neither of my brilliant proposals has been embraced by the people of this nation. So I now wish to offer a more modest proposal, one that could genuinely repair our political system and put this nation on a course of political and fiscal sanity, away from its present course of venal corruption, inexorably followed by total economic, political and moral collapse.
My proposal retains the current structure of government completely intact and merely addresses the manner in which we choose our political representatives. But before I reveal my proposal, let’s review what is wrong with the present system.
What part of the present system is corrupt? An easier question to answer is, What part of the present system is not corrupt? The answer to the second question is easy: none of it. Starting with campaign “contributions,” more accurately known as legal bribes, politicians are born in a fetid stew of corruption. From the moment they set foot in their new political offices, they spend virtually every waking moment soliciting (on the street “soliciting” is the polite term for prostitution) donors for “contributions” with which to finance their next election campaign! It’s no wonder they don’t have time to read the two- and three-thousand page bills they don’t even write, but nevertheless vote on, their yeas or nays so closely correlated with the funds flowing into their campaign war chests.
Then there are the perks they enjoy while in office, those in addition to the couple-of-hundred-grand salaries, gold-plated health care and lavish pensions. I refer to the “research” junkets to Tahiti, the free meals in five star restaurants and the free transportation everywhere. In addition, fat, sweaty wads of money are routinely passed under the table into the grasping, twitchy hands of politicians, “lubrication” in return for lucrative contracts from government to its private sector cronies, as if there is much distinction between the two in our fascist system. And don’t think that today’s politicians are careful to avoid conflicts of interest while in office, for a great many of them have been known to secure government contracts for, or special interest legislation benefiting private concerns controlled in part by themselves or their family members.
After leaving office through a revolving door that always beckons a return engagement as a “public servant” (not to mention, another pension), they relax during highly paid sabbaticals on boards of directors and rake in fees from book deals and speaking engagements before freshly graduating, future generations of politicians and malefactors.
Has anyone besides myself noticed how politicians of apparently humble means upon entering office inevitably end up wealthy after a few years in office? A quest for riches couldn’t possibly be a motive to enter politics, could it?
Ironically, while authentic freedom of speech is under assault from all angles today, “free speech” in the guise of campaign contributions has been ruled sacrosanct by the courts. (Don’t worry, my proposal herein pertains to judges as well as politicians.)
Many people complain about career politicians, some of whom spend their entire adult lives in politics, but nobody seems to want to do anything about it. Election after election, decade after decade, the same career politicians keep getting reelected. It’s as if – and I have made this observation before – the voters are suffering from multiple personality disorder, with one personality complaining about career politicians and another personality continually reelecting them! Others have likened the phenomenon to the Stockholm Syndrome, which is perhaps an equally valid observation.
To underscore the sheer idiocy of the voters, they all say they don’t want to waste their vote by voting for a newcomer who hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected, so they vote for the incumbent! Naturally, newcomers don’t have a chance because nobody will “waste” their vote on them! We’re so obsessed with “winning” in this country that voters act as if they’re playing in a sporting match, as if the paramount goal is to be on the winning team. To vote for a newcomer and have that candidate lose, which by perverse rules of association makes the person who voted for that candidate also a loser, is more repugnant to voters than voting for a sure winner, that is, the loathsome incumbent.
What’s wrong with career politicians? Well, for starters, I don’t believe the people who founded this country intended for politicians to spend their lives “serving” the public (as if!). I believe the idea was that a representative sampling of eligible citizens would serve (genuinely serve) briefly and then return to their private lives and businesses.
Practically speaking, career politicians steadily lose touch with their “constituents,” not to mention the real world itself. When one lives in a rarefied world of pampered excess, mundane matters, such as the cost of housing, energy and food, or even ensuring that more revenue is collected than spent become irrelevant. So what if a carton of milk doubles in price when it represents an infinitesimal portion of a politician’s annual income? So what if new a regulation cripples an entire business sector? So what if government has to issue another bond offering to fill the gulf between revenue and expenditures? That’s the thinking of today’s entrenched, ossified, economics-challenged politicians who have never run a business or even purchased a gallon of gasoline themselves. And does anyone – other than rich folk – still sincerely believe that their “representatives” actually represent them?
Continuing the above section’s line of inquiry about the connection between wealth and public “service,” it would make for a fascinating study (channeling Mr. Spock now) to determine if there is a correlation between the length of time a politician is in office and their wealth.
As in the case of campaign contributions, courts have generally impeded establishing term limits for politicians. It almost appears as though the courts have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, which is not so farfetched considering that judges, just like the politicians, are part of the same government establishment and that judges enjoy many of the same perks as the politicians. Anyone who believes that judges are somehow more noble than politicians is hopelessly naive.
The campaign for the United States presidency runs at least an entire year, if not closer to two! Campaigns for lesser offices are somewhat briefer, but even in my little town one sees political signs popping up all over town as much as three months before an election. Thankfully, the unsightly proliferation of signs vanishes almost immediately after the election. I don’t know if that speedy sign removal is the work of citizens who feel a civic duty to collect all their signs, or that of a municipal crew which cleans up the aftermath of the election at taxpayer expense.
Then there is the cost of elections, which has grown to absurd proportions. The exorbitant cost of purchasing exposure on various media venues, mainstream media in particular, has resulted in a political system in which, for the most part, the candidate who spends the most money wins the election. That’s not always the case, the recent election for governor of California being a first rate example, in which the losing candidate spent over $100 million of her own money. But it’s usually the case that the more money a candidate has to spend, the more likely it is that they will win the election, that close correlation explaining why politicians, once in office, spend so much time “soliciting.”
Not only are drawn out elections a huge and probably deliberate distraction from important matters, such as fixing our numerous economic problems, but the cost of financing these elections is a huge waste of money. Imagine what better use we could find for the billions of dollars spent during each election cycle.
The most troubling consequence of our present system for selecting politicians is that it places the absolute worst possible people in positions of great power, from which they can wreak havoc on a massive scale.
What few “normal” people seem to acknowledge or accept is that there are people among us who are not “normal,” but are more akin to a different species of hominid. These abnormal people are psychopaths who lack conscience, empathy and remorse. It’s not their fault and I harbor no ill-will toward them. Speaking as a layman, I believe they are born with defective brains, in which the areas of the brain that supply the feelings mentioned above are either abnormally small or somehow disconnected from the logical parts of the brain. Thus, while psychopaths may be highly intelligent, analytical and competent, they are utterly incapable of feeling the things that normal people feel. Psychopaths care only about themselves (unlike normal people, whose concern for their own well-being is tempered by their concern for others), and any harm they cause others in the process of satisfying their own desires does not even register in their hearts or minds. Generally, their attitude is that if they can get away with it, then it must be alright, or more precisely, if other people let them get away with it, then that acquiescence constitutes tacit approval. It’s very important to understand this attitude, for it explains many of the predatory and oppressive practices we observe around us today; the psychopaths preying on us and imposing all these oppressive measures upon us view our collective absence of resistance as tacit approval. (For a good introduction to psychopathy and the relevance of psychopaths in politics, read The Psychopathic Influence.)
Contrary to fictional film depictions of psychopaths as salivating, knife-wielding, bug-eyed lunatics, real life psychopaths are difficult to identify. In fact, many of them are well dressed, well kempt, well educated and articulate, a description applicable to a great many politicians and corporate executives. This observation should not seem surprising, however, because the competitive nature of both politics and business gives psychopaths an inherent advantage over “normal” people. For what kind of person other than a psychopath could ruthlessly claw their way to the top of a hierarchy with no regard for all the people they crushed and exploited along the way? What kind of person other than a psychopath could tell their shareholders, employees or constituents a baldfaced lie without the slightest pang of remorse? Psychopaths possess all the traits needed to achieve maximum “success” in both politics and business. Is it any wonder that we find ourselves in the grip of a tightening fascist dictatorship, forged of an unholy alliance between psychopaths within government and the private sector?
One solution to this problem would be to psychologically screen all people seeking roles in politics and business and permit only non-psychopaths to participate in these realms. Of course, such a policy raises ethical questions, particularly in the private world of business, would evoke vehement objection and would almost certainly never come to pass. In my opinion, the easiest way to screen out undesirable candidates from politics is to automatically disqualify anyone expressing a desire to be in politics, which creates an obvious conundrum!
Instead of holding elections for public office or judicial benches (for almost every complaint cited above applies to judges as well), why not select politicians and judges the same way we select jurors, by random lots? On selection day, notices would be mailed out to the pool of eligible public servants, instructing them to report for duty to various offices. Instead of a protracted election, the entire process would be over in a matter of days. There would be no campaigns nor any need for expensive, wasteful campaign financing because politicians would be chosen at random. There would be no need for term limits because the laws of probability would most likely prevent anyone from serving in the same office – or any other office – more than once. Instead of only psychopaths vying for public office, we’d get a random cross section of society to serve us. What’s more, these people would not be career politicians who never had to budget their funds or operate a business, but real people who would soon have to return to their former lives and suffer the consequences of any policies they enacted while serving the public.
Although there would still be some psychopaths in office, randomly selected along with everyone else, they would likely not exceed their approximately 5% makeup of the general population, which would be a vast improvement over conditions that exist today. Despite the presence of psychopaths in public service, they would serve so briefly and their numbers would be so overwhelmed by those of “normal” people that there would be little opportunity for them to create the fiefdoms of corruption that we observe in the corridors of power today. In any case, should public servants indulge in corrupt practices, we can prosecute them accordingly, just as we theoretically can today, but do not. In fact, if a corrupt politician’s peers are comprised of a randomly selected cross section of society, it’s more likely that the corrupt individual will be prosecuted than it is today, where everybody involved in the system is equally corrupt and inclined to look the other way, lest they subject themselves to scrutiny.
With any luck, replacing the culture of greed and corruption at the top of the hierarchy will produce beneficial effects that will trickle down through the bureaucracy, right on down to the man or woman on the street.
While there would be legitimate claims that grievous harm would come to businesses whose owners were recruited at random for public service, I’m sure intelligent creatures like us could figure out a way to ameliorate such impositions. For instance, we could permit such people to continue to operate their private businesses while performing their public duties, so long as no conflicts of interest arose.
People might complain that randomly selected representatives would be “inexperienced.” Inexperienced in what way, thievery and corruption? If so, inexperience would be a good thing. Today, political office is to politicians what prison is to criminals: finishing school. And to listen to some of our present politicians speak, it’s clear that they are no more intelligent, no better educated and no more competent than members of the general public, so selecting representatives at random would be no worse than what we have today, and would probably be an improvement. Considering that most of the voting public doesn’t really know what it’s doing at the polls anyway and might as well just flip a coin when casting their vote, selecting politicians at random would certainly be no worse than the current procedure of selecting them on the basis of how much television advertising they purchase. Remember, jurors, who are tasked with decisions at least as weighty as those of politics, are selected at random.
Obviously, to change the way we select U.S. Representatives, Senators and Presidents would require a constitutional amendment. However, we’ve amended the Constitution before, twenty-six times before, in fact, so it’s possible. Equally obviously, however, the entrenched politicians have a vested interest in maintaining the present system they’ve labored so arduously to craft and would hinder such a constitutional amendment every step of the way. In fact, getting such an amendment passed could take decades, if it could even be passed at all.
It would be easier to make my proposed changes at the state, county and municipal levels and if they proved successful, that success would ease the path to making similar changes at the federal level.
It’s clear we need to change the system. We need drastic change and not of the sort we’re getting from our present elite-serving government. Change carries risk, particularly the risk that things will end up worse than they were before, although observing how abysmal things are now, I don’t think they could get much worse. Famous last words, I suppose... Things could be worse, for instance, if people were being dragged from their homes in the dead of night and hauled off to the gulag after being branded enemies of the state, but we’re a heartbeat away from that now! If we make no effort to change things, there will be no change. If we do manage to change things for the worse, we can probably undo the changes and revert to what we had before. In my opinion, and I speak from a lifetime of such experimentation, it’s better to try something new – anything – than to sit idly by and watch things deteriorate.