30 March 2011
The New Political Class
For years, Americans have been warned about the existence of a "political class" that has a vested interest in a constantly-expanding government. The political class consists of those people who've made a career of politics, and expect to make their living through politics, having (allegedly) no other practical experience in life. Term limits for elected offices are advocated with the idea of preventing the entrenchment of a political class. With limits in place, it's supposed, elected officials will come straight from the people, as it were, and (more importantly) straight from the private sector. Such people are assumed to be more sympathetic with the people's (i.e. the private sector's) concerns and sensitive to the ways in which government adversely impacts those concerns. They are the ones who seek office, not for self-aggrandizement, but to do principled work to benefit the nation. By embracing the Tea Party movement, many novice and veteran politicians advertised themselves to the electorate as just such principled people, the antithesis of a political class. Now, however, anticipating a federal government shutdown, the U.S. Senate has passed a bill denying pay to Congress as long as the government remains unfunded. In answer, it seems, many of the virtuous freshmen in the House of Representatives, those boasting of their spartan lifestyles, are crying, "Show me the money!" Republicans may protest this characterization, noting that they've included language denying themselves pay in a "prevention of shutdown" appropriation bill they hope to get through the House -- but you see the problem. They'll agree to the concept of going without pay should the government shut down, but only so long as Democrats prevent the government from shutting down by accepting Republicans' spending cuts. Denying pay apparently has to be done through positive legislation, but the Republicans want to pass it as part of a bill that would prevent them from going without pay. The Democratic legislation seems to say, "we should all take a financial hit if we can't reach a compromise," while the Republican version seems to be, "we would have taken a hit if the other side didn't cave in to our demands." Some of the Republicans are reportedly pleading poverty, explaining that they've taken leave from their ennobling private-sector work to serve the people in Washington. Perhaps the donors who helped them get elected can take up collections for them if things get tight. But perhaps these suddenly impoverished pols will learn empathy for all those who, for whatever period of time, live off politics. If we want worthy people to do this work, we have to make it worth their while while they do it. Otherwise we may as well farm government out to the billionaires -- though that option would have the benefit of removing any ambiguity about who the "elite" and the ruling class really are.