How to Stop the Arrogance of Blagojevich (and Caroline Kennedy and Andrew Cuomo too)December 18, 2008
One solution to the insanity, stupidity and arrogance of politicians is so simple: Term Limits.
Kings and queens, otherwise known as career politicians, govern us. And it’s not just kings and queens that rule the American citizenry- but family dynasties handed down to princes and princesses. Our commander in chief was named either Clinton or Bush for 20 consecutive years. We almost extended that streak to 28 years with Hillary Clinton. Instead we elected Obama- and he named a Clinton Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton has left the U.S. Senate for her new job- and the replacement for her New York Senate seat appears to be a battle between a Cuomo (the son of the 3-term New York Governor Mario Cuomo) and a Kennedy (the daughter of John F. Kennedy). But what are their qualifications? A name? Is that enough to qualify for the United States Senate nowadays? Shouldn’t there be an election, as opposed to a coronation by the political establishment fawning over a celebrity family name? And if a Cuomo or Kennedy is named to that seat, how long will they occupy it? 18 years? Perhaps 24 years? Will they leave the Senate seat to their children?
But far worse than the arrogance and sense of entitlement by a Kennedy, Cuomo, Bush or Clinton, is the arrogance, greed and corruption of politicians like Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. The media has made Blago into a monster (and a household name). He has come to symbolize everything wrong with politics. But there are Blagos all across this country- at all levels of political office. They are career politicians with a talent for raising money, twisting arms, doing favors and winning elections. We should not be naÃ¯ve enough to believe that Blago was the first politician to allegedly try to sell a political office, or the last. We should not believe he was the first politician to allegedly expect a favor in return for a political appointment. It happens every day- although usually in more subtle fashion (and not on federal wiretap). Politicians like Blago prove the old adage that â€œpower corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.â€�
But how does a politician become â€œabsolutely powerful, arrogant and corrupted?â€� By gaining power and then keeping it for years, in many cases decades. Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute pointed out in 1996 that there had been more turnover at the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee in previous years than in the United States Congress. It has only gotten worse since 1996. It is almost impossible for a reformer with fresh ideas to unseat an entrenched incumbent at any level of government. Having politicians like U.S. Senator Byrd in West Virginia or U.S. Senator Harry Reid in Nevada may be good
for bringing home the bacon to West Virginia and Nevada, but it’s absolutely terrible for the nation as a whole. Career politicians become special interest tyrants- demanding favors and federal dollars for their long list of friends and contributors- and with seniority and power gained over the years, rest assured they get whatever they want. Only term limits can bring an end to the absolute power and corruption of powerful career politicians.
The current system encourages career politicians. And of course having career politicians in office is exactly what encourages bigger and more powerful federal government. First, if a career politician faces a citizen politician in a race, who has the advantage? Of course it’s the lifelong D.C. incumbent who has all the fundraising connections; has done favors for powerful special interests; and knows all the political dirty tricks. So the small business owner turned citizen politician (like me) has little or no chance to win election. Secondly, politics-as-usual (without term limits) tends to attract people who want to be career politicians. It attracts people who actually admire government (and the power of government). That type of person also can’t wait to use the power of government to rule the lives of others. That type of person loves to use the power of incumbency to stay in office for life. That type of person knows how to “game the system” to benefit special interests (so they will help him stay in office for life). That type of person will make sure to expand the size of government, increase the power of his office, and hire more government employees- who will be forced to campaign, vote and contribute to politicians that support bigger government (in order to keep their jobs and increase their compensation). Is this the kind of individual you want to have power over your life? Is this the kind of individual you want in charge of our government? In control of our economy? Do you want this type of individual in power for life?
Term limits provide at least some form of reasonable check on this kind of abuse of power. They give a fighting chance to our odds of electing true reformers and citizen politicians. They give a fighting chance to achieving true reform and change. They give a fighting chance to those looking to break the power of incumbency. They give a fighting chance to electing candidates with a diversity of backgrounds- as opposed to nothing but Kennedy’s, Clinton’s, Bush’s and Cuomo’s. And they put an end to the reign of the Blagojevich’s of the world.
And then there’s the Bloomberg’s of the world. Michael Bloomberg is the Mayor of New York. Limited to two terms by term limit laws passed by the citizens of New York, Bloomberg had the gall to go around the people and get the New York City Council to overturn the law so he could run for a third term. Like Rudy Guliani before him, this meglo-maniac actually believes he is the only man who can save New York from disaster and financial ruin. Guliani (after 9/11) also flirted with the idea of overturning the term limit law to install himself as perpetual ruler of New York. But even Rudy held his ego in check and thought better of it. Funny how New York City has survived just fine without King Guliani.
But Bloomberg went a step further and actually overturned the law to try to get himself installed as ruler of New York for a third term. How on earth could New York City possibly survive without King Bloomberg? Even when ignored or overturned by arrogant politicians, term limits serve a purpose. Without term limits we could never understand the true heights of ego, arrogance and ruthlessness possessed by our rulers.
But even politicians that appear to be reformers show their true colors once elected into office. Don’t be fooled by public announcements from â€œreformer politiciansâ€� meant to create an image of integrity and honesty in government. The key word here is â€œimage.â€� The reality is far different. Nothing changes so long as we keep electing a political class whose entire career and life are tied to politics. As a prime example, President Obama set a â€œbold standardâ€� to rid the White House of lobbyists and ties to special interests. Isn’t it funny how career politicians who know their way around Washington, also happen to find ways around the rules (and the truth)?
Let’s examine the reality of the Obama Administration. Let’s start with Obama’s new Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Daschle (long-time Senate Majority Leader). No, Daschle wasn’t officially registered as a lobbyist before his appointment. He was only a â€œspecial policy advisorâ€� for the lobbying law firm of Alston & Bird. During Daschle’s three years in that role advising this lobbying group, the firm earned over $16 million representing (can you guess?) many of the most powerful interests in the health care industry. A perfect role to avoid charges of conflict of influence for a Secretary of Health and Human Services, don’t you think? Government lobbying disclosure forms list the firm that Daschle â€œadvisedâ€� representing health care companies, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, nursing homes and pharmacy benefit managers. No potential for conflict of interest there. No violation of Obama’s new anti-lobbyist pledge, right?
How much money is there in this lobbying business? As just one example, Health South paid Alston & Bird nearly $1.5 million to lobby the Department of Health and Human Services (as well as Medicare and Medicaid) on its behalf. Note to American consumers and patients: As Secretary of HHS, Daschle’s job will be to oversee a wide range of health regulations; decisions on which drugs can come to market; and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement levels. Are you getting sick to your stomach right about now? Don’t worry, I’m sure Daschle can recommend a drug for that.
But wait- it gets better. Several of President Obama’s top choices to run our government are married to lobbyists. Tom Daschle’s wife Linda Hall Daschle (why is this not a surprise) is one of the most powerful aviation lobbyists in Washington. New Energy Czar Carol Browner is married to Tom Downey (a former Congressman), the Founder of one of the most powerful lobbying firms in DC- which just happens to represent (can you guess) energy companies. Exxon Mobil and Chevron are among its many powerful clients, as well as foreign governments. And let’s not forget one of lobbyist Downey’s biggest past clients- subprime lender Fannie Mae. Starting to feel a need for a shower right about now?
Hillary Clinton is our newest Secretary of State. Does anyone find it a conflict of interest that her husband, ex-President Bill Clinton, has accepted millions of dollars in donations for his Presidential Library from foreign governments that Hillary might be dealing with? Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter has been a registered federal lobbyist since 2001. Obama, his wife Michelle, Biden, and virtually everyone they have appointed at every level of government are lawyers. You think they may be a bit biased towards trial lawyers? Do you believe they will make eliminating frivolous lawsuits a first priority? Any priority at all?
Why is any of this any different than Vice President Dick Cheney’s prior career as CEO of Haliburton? Republican, Democrat- it doesn’t matter. The names change, as does the party affiliation, but the conflicts of interest for career politicians remain the same. It’s all about power and connectionsâ€¦and absolute power and absolute connections. And of course, how this absolute power benefits special interests, who in turn benefit career politicians (by giving them enough money to insure their re-election year after year).
The longer politicians stay in office, the more powerful they become, the more hooked on power and greed, the more deep their tentacles grow into the political establishment. John McCain was no â€œmaverick.â€� Obama couldn’t spell â€œchange.â€� Those were merely campaign slogans their advertising agencies and political strategists desperately wanted you to believe. Obama and McCain are both career politicians. They are not Republicans or Democrats. Career politicians have only one party affiliation- Beltway Insider. None of this should surprise us. Smart, ambitious, tenacious, driven people using their power and connections to advance their career and enhance their power is not exactly a shocker.
But there is a way to cut short the careers of career politicians: term limit them out of office. There is a way to make sure that a Kennedy, Cumo, Clinton or Bush can’t own an office for life. We must change the I.D. of our politicians from lifelong careers in political office, to the vision of our Founding Fathers- to that of citizen politicians. Our Founding Fathers were farmers, property owners, small business owners, and entrepreneurs who put down their pitchforks and muskets, and set aside their business careers, to serve their country and countryman as civil servants. They served for short periods of time, and then went back to their businesses and families. They could not even imagine a lifelong career in politics. That is the only reason they did not put term limits into the Constitution. But that is precisely why our Founding Fathers created a Constitution to limit the power of government and politicians. Limiting their time in office is a simple way to limit the actual power of government.
Term limits quickly and efficiently create a new political â€œbrandâ€� – from career politicians to citizen politicians. Suddenly our government will rely on citizens who earn their livelihood outside of politics. Term limits aren’t perfect. They’re certainly not the only answer. But they make it harder for seasoned, connected, professional politicians to “game the system” in favor of their friends and special interests.
Let’s end the dynasties (Bush, Clinton, Cuomo or Kennedy). No more kings or queens, no more princes or princesses. No more hoods (Blagojevich) who rule like mafia dons handing out patronage. Let’s end the political machines; end the sense of patronage, end the arrogance once and for all. Let’s end the earmarks, graft and waste created by powerful career politicians like Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barney Frank, Christopher Dodd, Robert Byrd and of course Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (he of the infamous $200 million “Bridge to Nowhere” fame)- who think that the House or Senate is their own personal fiefdom to do whatever they please.
Want more proof of the importance of limiting the power of the wolves, frauds, and corrupt conmen that run our political process? Look no further than my home state of Nevada. Our state constitution limits our legislature to the role of part-time politicians- meeting only for a few months every 2 years. Nevada has also enacted term limits on the state level. Are those limits on a politician’s power perfect? Far from it. Our Nevada politicians manage to cause plenty of damage in only the few months they meet every two years. But keeping our politicians sidelined for most of the time, has kept our state government in check for almost 150 years. Nevada is among the lowest tax states in America. And of course, we have also been the fastest growing state in all of America virtually every year for the past quarter of a century. The Census Bureau recently predicted that Nevada will lead the nation in population growth for the next quarter of a century too. Nevada provides proof that limiting the power of government (and the politicians that run it) breeds success and more power to the people. Look to my home state of Nevada as the model for limiting the power of politicians and government.
No politician in America- at any level of office- should serve more than 2 to 3 terms. PERIOD. That’s enough to do what they pledge to do, then retire from public service, and go back to their real careers. That reduces the opportunities for corruption, the pay for play, and the special interest domination. That eliminates the endless need for fundraising (because there is no reason to fundraise if you are not running for office again), and the conflicts of interest that are created by endless fundraising. That eliminates the incentive for politicians to vote for bills just to curry favor with special interests (in order to collect more money so they can get re-elected). That eliminates the power of incumbency, and encourages more diversity in our elected officials. Term limits restore some measure of balance of power back to the people- just as the Constitution intended. It’s time to restore the citizen politician to lead this great country.