Thursday, August 18, 2011
Remember college? How the dorms had a way of making all freshmen equal regardless of what their parents did for a living or how much money they made? The way they forced the intermingling of nerds with the cool guys, the English majors with the engineering and science tools – and eventually, in more recent years, the girls with the boys, the blacks with the whites, the straight with the gay? It was nice, because dorm life helped open our minds, encouraging us to relate to others who were different than we were, to appreciate these differences and not get bent out of shape by them.
Maybe we should take the same approach to growing a better, more civil, more effective Congress.
Those of you who watch MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan (4-5 PM weekdays) are no doubt aware that he’s pushing a constitutional amendment to pull money out of the elective process for Congress and the President. He’s right, of course. Who among us isn’t tired of money determining who runs, who wins and the laws Congress passes and never considers? Dylan knows he has an uphill fight, but hopes that leveraging the Internet will raise a collective voice too loud for state legislatures and Congress to ignore, however substantial their selfish interests. Good luck with that. I respect Dylan’s initiative, but not his chances for success anytime soon.
I’d rather he and other interested parties focus their attention, and the power of the Internet, on a more segmented process. Lobbyists need to be outlawed. Really. If companies, unions and other special interest groups have a point they make, let them make it to the people, and they, in turn, to their elected officials. Same for PACs (Political Action Committees) that raise ungodly amounts of money for their candidates, bypassing the fact and spirit of laws limiting individual campaign contributions. I even think individual contribution limits are too high. Com’on. I dare you to take a look at the FECA (Federal Elections Campaign Act) Contribution Limits table – Click here to see it. – and not agree that money isn’t giving people who have it much more control over who we elect than those of us who don’t – have as much money, that is. And that’s not the way it’s supposed to work.
Okay, enough about ideas that have been out there for way too long already. This piece is about one that might not have occurred to you. I know it’s going to sound far fetched, but it’s the kind of idea that grows on you. Like mold. Good mold.
I consider being a Congressman to be a privilege. How much money you have, where you can afford or even prefer to live while you’re in Washington shouldn’t make any difference. If ever there was a job which cries out for, which demands that employees get to know each other, this is it. It’s got to be harder to disrespect someone’s opinion on the job when you see and get to know him (or her) and his family outside of the workplace.
Our Representatives are way too isolated, thriving within their respective caucuses and cliques without having to really interact with others who they don’t fully understand, with whom they assume they disagree and whose opinions they value only out of necessity, not respect.
I know it’s a reach, but suppose our Congressmen and women, and their families, had to live, while they are in Washington, in a Congressional dorm. Modest, but comfortable. Appropriate for a public servant. Seems a bit juvenile, does it? Well, I think it’s exactly what our Representatives need to remind them that, no matter how long their tenure, whatever their party affiliation, committee membership or authority, they, like all of us, are equal. (This is government, not business or the NFL.) We selected them to be our voice. They work for us and not the other way around and, as such, politically speaking, are no more or less equal, no more inherently right or wrong among themselves than we are.
Not incidentally, “the dorm” might also encourage them to use their time in Washington more efficiently, to spend more time in their districts observing and listening to their constituents, re-establishing their relationship with the communities they represent. Capitol Hill is a workplace, not an enclave where the elite can distance themselves the problems of our times. When our founding fathers started all this, Representatives came to Washington to do the business of the people. Home was where the people lived who elected them.