A lot of talk floats around regarding what we need to do as a country to combat the kind of political structure that landed us in recession and led us to more than a few iffy policy decisions: We need to end deficit spending. We need to cut taxes. We need to reform Social Security. We need to stop intervening abroad. Whatever the problem, the talking heads always have themselves convinced that they’ve got an answer.
I disagree with them. All of the above solutions – the ones we’ve been (sort of) trying to use to solve our problems for a while now – are quick-fix painkillers to a larger issue that won’t go away without a serious rethinking of the American political structure. The bigger issue could be any number of things, but I assert that it’s not the decisions being made but the people making them.
This isn’t to say that all Congressmen, or all politicians, are bad people who can’t make the right decisions. This is clearly not true – most House representatives and senators are highly intelligent people who have strong, legitimate beliefs regarding how our country should be run. This is great, and will probably always be true. The real problem lies in the lack of change.
Our Congress representatives are nearly always the same. They come from the same mold, and they retain the same political professions for life most of the time, especially if they serve in the six-year term senate. If they don’t get reelected, they often become lobbyists, so their ideas are still having (arguably) the same amount of sway in policy decisions. This just recycles the same faces through D.C. each year, which not only ends in the same old views being represented but also encourages the kind of political gridlock and filibustering that these Congressmen have gotten so good at.
We need new people. Congress was not originally intended to be a lifelong job; the term “professional politician” was exactly what the Founding Fathers would not have wanted. Ideally, as I argued in a previous column, we want one-term Congressmen: educated doctors, lawyers, bankers, professors, and the like who take time out of their careers to get elected to office and push for policy. But this sounds very unlikely when we have trouble getting well-rounded, educated people to become lifelong politicians in the first place.
Most people who study political science, it seems, tend to analyze from the sidelines. The proportion of Carleton political science majors who will actually run for office and become “professional” policy-makers is probably very slim. Most poli-sci alums, I would guess, are analyzing politics through journalism, working in government branches that don’t require elections, working for NGOs, or doing jobs that have nothing to do with politics.
Why is this? We need a wider variety of people – not a larger number, but a wider variety – going out for political positions, and we aren’t getting them. At Carleton, we are being endowed with the analytical and problem-solving tools necessary to combat the kind of competitive political arenas seen in D.C. and elsewhere, and we aren’t using them. Why?
The answer lies in the nature of the work. Few people want to deal with the bureaucracy that is American politics, and even fewer have the mindset that will bring them through this bureaucracy with maintained levels of sanity. Perhaps even more importantly, people do not want to spend months campaigning and spending money only to lose the race, the past year of their life gone forever.
People from schools like Carleton who have the skills to be politicians should be running for office, and they aren’t. How can we change this?