If the United States has any chance of changing the disastrous course on which it is currently embarked, then significant electoral reforms are needed. As things stand, too few politicians wield too much power for far too long.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ring of Power is perhaps the best metaphor for actual power found in literature: The more the bearer wears the ring, the more “addicted” to its powers and pleasures he becomes, and the more enthralled to the Dark Lord.
Most folks probably thought such a ring only exists in fantasy literature, but the truth is that a Ring of Power can be found right here in these United States. It’s called the Beltway, and year after year, politician after politician becomes enslaved to its temptations.
In “The Lord of the Rings,” Sauron’s main servants are the Nazgûl, the Ring-wraiths. Once strong kings of men, they succumbed to the temptation of the ring and the dark lord’s power, mutating into mere ghosts of their former selves with no will of their own. They exist only to serve the dark lord.
We have some Nazgûl here in America too, and they’re called U.S. senators.
Once principled, independent leaders, their long exposure to the power of the Beltway morphs them into something much different: Establishment cronies.
Sen. Diane Feinstein is readying her run for a fifth term in the Senate, and there are a total of nine senators — and 17 representatives if you’re keeping score — who have been serving longer than 30 years.
There are also currently five senators who are octogenarians.
There are also currently five senators who are octogenarians. The five longest-serving senators, including establishment icons Mitch McConnell and Thad Cochran, have been in office for a combined total of nearly two centuries (181 years). One simply cannot spend that long in the Beltway of Power without becoming its servant.
How else could Sen. John McCain, who supported the Gramm-Rudman act, voted for Robert Bork and opposed military involvement in Somalia, become Sen. John McCain, the conservative-bashing member of the pro-amnesty Gang of Eight who desired to arm Islamist militants in Syria?
Not only are old men and women spending far too long in the Senate, but Congress itself is also “governing” far too much, which only feeds the Beltway establishment and its ability to bend public servants to its will.
Of course, it wasn’t meant to be this way. The Founding Fathers never imagined a world of career politicians spending their entire lives in government. Jefferson hoped that when it came to Congress, the people would “(confine) their choice of Representatives and Senators to persons attached to republican government and the principles of 1776. Not office-hunters, but farmers whose interests are entirely agricultural. Such men are the true representatives of the great American interest.”
Though they certainly knew some people would spend much of their lifetime serving the public (like John Adams), they did not wish public service to be a life-long career and a means to earn a living — to have the same people return to the same office over and over again. Serving in Congress was to be a duty done at personal cost, not for personal gain. But, alas, a career, and a lucrative one at that, it has become.
The first U.S. Congress existed for two years but only sat in session three relatively short times — twice for a period of about eight months and once for a period of four. These days, Congress is in session year-round.
Back to our geeky little analogy.
If the Beltway is the ring and the Senate the Ring-wraiths, then surely the K Street establishment is Sauron, the dark lord.
If the Beltway is the ring and the Senate the Ring-wraiths, then surely the K Street establishment is Sauron, the dark lord. Theoretically, were the powers of the federal government limited to what the Founders had intended, it might not matter if a senator served for one term or his entire life. Unfortunately, the federal government of 2015 is not the federal government of 1789. Decades and decades of straying from first principles, combined with the ever-growing influence of special interests and lobbyists, has created a powerful federal government with the ability to provide politicians who play for the establishment team the opportunity to secure a staggering amount of personal wealth and other benefits.
Given the power of the Beltway establishment, it is necessary to limit as much as possible politicians’ exposure to it, and introduce term limits to the Senate.
One may protest that had the framers of the Constitution desired term limits, they would have included them in the document. But elections themselves were to be the mechanism which guaranteed rotation of office holders. Writing to Samuel Adams, Jefferson said, “A government by representatives elected by the people at short periods was our object, and our maxim… was ‘where annual election ends, tyranny begins.’ ”
Of course, annual elections cease to be valuable when the same person is elected time after time. The federal government has changed so drastically from what the Founders envisioned, the special interests so powerful and entrenched, that regular elections are no longer enough of a guarantee of rotation of office holders, or a strong enough check against corruption of those offices.