…based on the best information they had at the time.
When I finally got a chance to sit down and look at something, anything, that did not require my URGENT! attention, for the first time in almost a week, I started to flip through my dogeared and battered copy of The Federalist Papers. I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for, but I’ve found some really useful cases when I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, so if I’m not rushed, I tend to go with the urge. Before I knew it, I was reading Number 57, written by Publius [Madison] which was his response to the criticism on the Constitution which speculated that the “House of Representatives would be taken from that class of citizens which will have least sympathy with the mass of people, and be most likely to aim at an ambitious sacrifice of the manny to the aggrandizement of the few
He started out with the right idea, and to be fair, he couldn’t have foreseen the direct election of Senators, or the expansion of the franchise to include women and african americans, or the fact that the position of Representative and Senator would become cushy positions with pay and health care for life with minimal service, to be performed under conditions that made the job itself attract, rather than the concept of a service as an unpleasant duty keeping the office holder from friends, family, home, and real jobs during their tenure. Viewing these positions through his eyes, his arguments do not seem quite so funny. I recommend that you take some time to read it yourself and ponder the gulf between what was obviously intended, and what we got. One thing that should be crystal clear is that they really did intend for a better class of people to serve in government, with a much different mindset.
His first argument:
“If we consider the situation of the men on whom the free suffrages of their fellow-citizens may confer the representative trust, we shall find it involving every security which can be devised or desired for their fidelity to their constituents. In the first place, as they will have been distinguished by the preference of their fellow-citizens, we are to presume that in general they will be somewhat distinguished also by those qualities which entitle them to it[The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.], and which promise a sincere and scrupulous regard to the nature of their engagements.”
On to the second argument:
“In the second place, they will enter into the public service under circumstances which cannot fail to produce a temporary affection at least to their constituents. There is in every breast a sensibility to marks of honor, of favor, of esteem, and of confidence, which, apart from all considerations of interest, is some pledge for grateful and benevolent returns.”
Now I think he is on to something with this. Robert Byrd has been a senator of West Virginia since 1959, and in that time, has managed to bring enough federal money back to the state to get his name on damn near everything. Maybe if he dies in office, they will rename the state after him, in his memory.
But then I look at these, and I see no affection for constituents, temporary or otherwise:
The third argument:
“In the third place, those ties which bind the representative to his constituents are strengthened by motives of a more selfish nature. His pride and vanity attach him to a form of government which favors his pretensions and gives him a share in its honors and distinctions. Whatever hopes or projects might be entertained by a few aspiring characters, it must generally happen that a great proportion of the men deriving their advancement from their influence with the people, would have more to hope from a preservation of the favor, than from innovations in the government subversive of the authority of the people.”
True, but when the people stop caring about the representation that their elected officials make, then what remains is to buy their favor with generous doses of the public fisk, and the race is on to “Bring home the bacon” as part of a pursuit in which it is generally ignored that we as individuals brought that bacon home first, and now we are getting back a portion of what was taken from us. The days of satisfaction with being represented by persons of wisdom and integrity appear to be over. I don’t like what that says about us, and you shouldn’t either.
The fourth argument:
All these securities, however, would be found very insufficient without the restraint of frequent elections. Hence, in the fourth place, the House of Representatives is so constituted as to support in the members an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people. Before the sentiments impressed on their minds by the mode of their elevation can be effaced by the exercise of power, they will be compelled to anticipate the moment when their power is to cease, when their exercise of it is to be reviewed, and when they must descend to the level from which they were raised; there forever to remain unless a faithful discharge of their trust shall have established their title to a renewal of it.
Again, as it was authored in the days before a short stint would get you pay and health care for life, and in a time when modesty and financial hardship precipitated by being away from one’s career would force the elected official to willingly depart from office before it became a lifestyle. Now, while being called a politician is considered an insult, it doesn’t change the fact that for too many of them it is a career, and the notion that this is acceptable is fostered in the collective mind of the public with the careful cultivation of the ‘tyranny of the experts’ that is often raised to discourage the public form intruding in this exclusive playground.
But what really caught my attention was the fifth argument:
“I will add, as a fifth circumstance in the situation of the House of Representatives, restraining them from oppressive measures, that they can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interests and sympathy of sentiments, of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny.”
Of course, we can’t arbitrarily vote ourselves raises, nor can we write gargantuan, mammoth, life changing bills that will apply to everyone but us and our friends, but hey, we could always run for Congress too, right?