Monday, January 27, 2014

The Death of a Slur


I’m old enough to remember a very popular political slur that was once vigorously flung at mostly Democratic candidates. It was one of the most effective put downs in the business as it perfectly captured an alleged contrast between two vastly divergent philosophies of government. You heard it from the lips of every conservative candidate, and most Republican ones…career politician.

The implication was clear. Something had corrupted our democratic system to the point where there was no such thing as a citizen-legislator. The romantic image the founders put forth of men of great accomplishment who in their retiring years gave in to public pressure to serve as Senators and Congressmen, had been corrupted and replaced with political science majors with Master’s degrees in Public Policy who get their first job as a Congressional aid then hop on the treadmill to fame and fortune that is Washington, DC. So to lob the career politican bomb at someone was to brand him or her as an opportunist and moocher on the public teat. No more.

Two ostensibly Republican politicians have been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell. Both men have ardent defenders. Both are career politicians, having received practically every adult paycheck courtesy of the taxpayer. For many Republicans and conservatives this is apparently no longer a bad thing. But in my opinion it is at the very heart of our dysfunctional government. Men and women may go to Washington as neutral outsiders bent on fixing the broken system, but once there, they become the system and are suddenly blind to its faults. They suddenly lose their moral opposition to term limits, and discover the virtues of featherbedding and the need to hone their fund raising skills. Thirty years later, they are still there voting for bills they’ve never read in exchange for a commitment from some Congresswoman from Delaware to support a bridge to nowhere back in the district, the district being a place where they seldom visit anymore anyway. The place is hopelessly provincial!

There are exceptions. In our own State, Mark Warner actually ran a profitable business before getting into politics. He actually knows what it’s like to make a profit, meet a payroll, and compete successfully in the marketplace. Maybe because of that, I never read about him in the newspaper. He’s our silent Senator. I take this as a good sign, although I didn’t vote for him…or maybe I did. I can’t remember, which should tell you something about my degree of interest in the process.

I guess I am pining for an era which never really has existed, but should have; a time when men and women of great reputation, talent and a life of actual accomplishment in the real world, devote the golden years of their lives to public service, where they can tell that smart-ass 27 year old aid what it’s actually like to build a business, or write a great novel, or teach inner city kids classical music successfully. Then maybe Washington would possess something it lacks…wisdom.