Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cheer when they finally go, don't cry

Article first published as Crocodile Tears and Personal Power on Technorati.

Following Barney Frank's announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2012, there has a been a cacophony of regretful and remorseful statements from politicians and pundits throughout the land, lamenting the news. The President remarked that "the House of Representatives will not be the same without him [Frank]," and that is surely true. But it would be no less true for a host of other Representatives and Senators, if they were to step down as well.

Barney Frank has been in office for over thirty years, yet he is not even close to being the longest-serving member of Congress. Currently, that honor belongs to Representative John Dingell, in office for over fifty-five years. He is followed closely by Daniel Inouye. Then there is John Conyers--in office for over forty-five years--and Charlie Rangel (forty years), Bill Young (also forty years), Thad Cochran (thirty-eight years), Pete Stark (the same), and Don Young (also the same). Leahy, Baucus, Grassley, Harkin, and Waxman are right up there, as well.

We tend to accept this as, somehow, a Good Thing. Politicians with such longevity are often thanked for their long careers as public servants, are referred to by monikers like "elder statesman," and are held in high esteem, simply because they have maintained their hold on power. Charlie Rangel was censured by the House only a year ago for multiple ethics violations, but recently received the full support of his fellow Democrats in office at a fund-raising event, indicating that his transgressions were meaningless, compared to his years of service.

And this is a bed we--the voters--have willingly made for ourselves; we vote again and again for the same person and why? Because seniority has its privileges, because long-serving Congresspersons have a better hold on power, are better able to deliver the goods, so to speak. But in doing so, the sovereign power of the people, which is supposedly exercised by government agents, is warped and twisted into the personal power of these elected representatives.

They have more power than the typical rank and file member of Congress by virtue of their seniority. If they are replaced, the new member loses all of that accrued power, is forced to begin anew. And what do they do with that power? They insure their hold on it, whenever possible, as was the case with McCain-Feingold, the legislation at the center of the Citizens United decision of the SCOTUS. And they create channels of access for friends and supporters, as has been the case for board positions at institutions like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These are powers they were not meant to have, powers that exceed what was granted.

So, do not lament the loss of an entrenched politician, applaud it, no matter the Party involved. For their Party's loss, their constituents' loss, is the nation's gain. It's a net decrease in the power available to be exercised over us all. And that is truly a Good Thing.

Cheers, all.

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