Who Should Control the Public Purse?
Fire Congress, Vote Out Incumbents
Many Americans, but not a majority, will soon vote, for a better world or more of the same? This op-ed is from a frequent contributor whose view may or may not coincide with ours. If you have an article, please submit it.
by Joel S. Hirschhorn, 24 October 2012Countless opinion polls find that the public has incredibly low levels of positive regard for Congress. Just one in 10 Americans approves of the job Congress is doing, according to a Gallup poll released a few weeks ago, tying the branch's lowest approval rating in 38 years.
Yet this year as in past years, unless Americans take back control of their country, voters will again reelect nearly all incumbents. Often, some incumbents do not even have any significant opposition. For example, in the 2000 election cycle, out of 435 House seats, 64 members had no major-party opponent, and in 2008 every House race in Arkansas was uncontested by a major party according to the Center for Voting and Democracy. Political redesign of congressional districts, gerrymandering, is widely done to ensure reelection of incumbents or one party.
The main way that incumbents get removed from office these days is when they lose in a party primary election, or die, or get themselves into a sex or corruption scandal. Primaries often replace the incumbent with someone else from the same party who will, in time, become an incumbent. That replacement is often a more extreme partisan than the previous incumbent.
The usual rationale for this survival of incumbents given by political analysts and writers is that although the public correctly sees Congress as a whole as incompetent, dysfunctional and incapable of serving critical public interests, they somehow think that their own Representatives and Senators are worth reelecting. If this had validity, then cumulatively and nationally it would make sense to keep incumbents in office and Congress would get better and better with each election. Yet nearly all incumbents, regardless of party, do not deserve to be reelected.
There must be better explanations.
Here is a likely one. Most Americans have become beholden to one of the two major political parties even if they are not officially members of them and may even consider themselves as uncommitted or independent. Moreover, a majority of people find themselves living in places where their favored party has predominated. When election time rolls around they cannot get themselves to vote for the candidate from the “other” party and they refuse to vote for third party candidates. Or they are so fed up with an awful government and political system that they do not vote at all, or not for congressional races.
Another contributing factor might be related to the lesser evil mode of thinking. The incumbent loser that you know is, somehow, thought to be better than the competing candidate you do not know, especially one from the “other” party. Nuts. Congressional experience is not to be rewarded; it must be penalized for rotten performance.
Third, incumbents almost always have the most money because they have already been corrupted by money. More money means more advertising and more lies. Lies work. Especially for the many information-poor voters that are easily swayed by campaign propaganda. The big popular lie of omission these days is staying completely away from their congressional record. No incumbent wants to be seen as an experienced Washington insider. If you failed on the job, why would you?
This year ten Senators and 42 Representatives are not running for reelection. Odds are that far fewer incumbents will be voted out of office, if historic trends continue. For House elections from 1982 to 2008 only one in three voters did not vote for a winning House representative and 73 percent of House races were won by landslide margins of at least 20 percentage points. The power of incumbency reduces much needed political competition which a healthy democracy requires.
If the royalty of incumbency does not stop there is no hope of putting the nation on a much better track. It does not matter who is elected president. In the end, if the fractured Congress we have witnessed for years perseveres the US is doomed to join the list of once great global powers that went down the toilet.
Flush congressional incumbents out. Stop making excuses, rationalizing. Make you voice really heard this year.
To read more
JJS: While a change of the guard does matter, it’s also true that good intentions often go awry and shallow people do the right thing for the wrong reason. So no matter who wins, some progress toward economic justice is possible, as long as a critical mass demands, creates a zeitgeist, makes the vision of a better world popular and tangible. That’s something we all can do.
The particular vision of economic justice we extol and pursue is sharing the common wealth, the worth of Mother Earth, instead of taxing our efforts and subsidizing our bad social habits (you know tobacco is subsidized, right?). Once society irons out a correct understanding of property -- what’s yours, what’s mine, what’s ours -- then much else falls into place. Everyone prospers, everyone conserves, and the proclamations of economists and politicians make much more sense.
Society is awakening, catching a glimpse of geonomics, as you can see by various news articles such this: “The Problem of Plutocrats: What a 19th-Century Economist Can Teach Us About Today's Capitalism”. To read more .
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .
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