Archive for March 9th, 2010

In a recent New York Times article, columnist Matt Bai wrote about the current outrage in the American public against the influence of lobbyists is our halls of government.  He makes a case that perhaps the lobbyists themselves are not wholly to blame for the power they now wield but the current state of affairs is a result of a system that has made most politicians view any critical decision as being a matter of them either choosing  what is truly right for their constituents and the country or choosing what best protects and serves their own position.  It comes down to a matter of self-preservation, looking out for themselves, over looking out for the people they represent and supposedly serve.

As a result, we are left with a government designed and built with good intentions for all but operated by the few for their own often selfish ends.

It brings to mind director Frank Capra‘s classic film,  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  Everyman Jimmy Stewart plays Jefferson Smith who is chosen by the governor of some vague western state to replace a recently deceased senator.  Smith is chosen for his wholesome image in the state, as head of the Boy Rangers,and for a naivete that those in power feel will allow him to be easily manipulated.  In Washington, Smith is faced with corruption and graft from special interests and is soon the target of these groups as they attempt to destroy him when he finds out what he is up against and tries to do what is right.

Sounds familiar.

The film is a very simplified, maybe overly naive,  object lesson for our democracy.  But beneath this layer of naivete there is the simple truth that our government is based on those in power doing what is just and right for the people and when this power is usurped, our voices are ignored and the power of our democracy is diminished.  We lose something essential to our character as a people.

What’s the answer?

I’m not sure.   Perhaps we should change our system in a way that very much limits a person’s term in office, maybe one four year term so that there is no pressure for running a campaign while they are in office.  Do away with career politicians.  Fund all campaigns with public funds and return to a true citizen government.

Could such a system do much worse than the way things are currently done?  Some will say that we would be losing our best minds by having term limits but does the current system really encourage our best minds to serve in government at this point?

As it is, I am without a congressman of any sort at the moment.  I am unfortunately part of the congressional district  ( the 29th New York) represented until last night by Eric Massa, who is bailing on his constituency because of a recurrence of cancer and a sexual harassment scandal.  I am disappointed.  In the sheer stupidity of his actions.  In his quick, unceremonious exit.  In his unwillingness to finish his term and fight for the people that chose to vote him into office.  He claims he was at odds with the Democratic party over his refusal to toe the party line on health care but instead of staying in the game and trying to work out solutions, his choice was to try to punish the party by leaving the citizens of his district without a voice in Congress for several months until a special election can be held.

He was obviously not our Mr. Smith.  I don’t think Mr. Smith would give up so easily on the people of this country.


Addenda: As I was finishing the end of this, there was a local news report on the TV about a local longtime mayor who was being urged to seek Massa’s abandoned seat.  In a statement the mayor said that the environment in Washington was toxic and that they needed honor and dignity.  For that reason, he would not run.  It struck me as a very funny line.

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