And that's the problem right there. It's just not he desire for power, it's the fact these people are ok to "settle" for a certain lower level of power and have no aims at being in charge. They like their little fiefdom and are glad to keep it and will do what it takes to do so. And you'd think that the power of the vote would be enough to keep them in line, but it's obvious that it's not the case. Today we suffer from politicians that are good at telling people what they want to hear and to also cover their tracks when it comes to explaining their poorer decisions.
Well, I take it back. There was at least one Founding Father that was wise in understanding power: George Washington, our first president. He could have easily been president for the rest of his life, thus effectively making him a king. But he knew better and stepped down after just 8 years in office saying that no one person should hold power for so long. Thankfully, the presidents following him for the next 140 or so years had the class enough to simply follow suit and heed his wisdom. There didn't need to be law made to restrain the presidential tenure. It took a power hungry liberal progressive in FDR to ignore such a long standing and wise tradition before congress finally made it official. And it's definitely a good thing it was. While yes, we could have a longer tenure for conservative iconic presidents like Eisenhower and Reagan, we do not know if they'd be able to resist the lure of power and perhaps slip away from their principles. And this isn't even mentioning what it would have been like should Clinton, and our current president Obama, have extended terms in office. In fact, it's a relief knowing that Obama and his administration has an expiration date.
But, why hasn't this wisdom ever been transferred to the other branches of government? Congressmen can stay in office for as long as they get elected. Judges can too, and in some cases do not even have to bother with an election at all. Presidents nominate supreme court justices and are only held to a single confirmation vote by the Senate. After that, they do not even have to worry about re election. They're in there for as long they wish to be.
And it's this endless tenure that creates problems. For starters, these people get accustomed to the power they have. They enjoy having it and focus more on not losing it than they do at doing their jobs. It also gives them a sense of not being held accountable to anyone, especially if they're allowed to get away with the small infractions mentioned previously. And in a judge's case, their power in the court room is absolute with practically zero accountability to the people for their decisions.
In the case of congressmen, the irony is that they've become powerless in their effort to hold on to their power. They bequeath the power to those that can influence their access to the power they hold. This is a form of corruption. When an elected official allows unelected people of considerable influence to control what they do with the power they were given. And the longer one of them is in Washington, the more they are constrained by their "power handlers". In the judge case, there's just zero accountability so there's no incentive to follow the law of the land since they can effectively do whatever they want.
Long story short, length of exposure to power increases the chances, and severity, of corruption.
So if a politician were truly serious about "changing Washington", this would be their rallying cry. The first step would be limiting exposure to power. And by doing so, instead of a congressman saying "What can I do or not do to keep getting myself elected" they would now say "What can I do with the limited amount of time I have?". It changes the focus. If Judges, even all the way up to the supreme court, were given term limits, then at least we know their influence has a limit.
There are definitely other things a "clean up Washington" platform would include..
- Accountability into the judicial system to counteract judicial activism,
- Adding more accountability of the executive branch to Congress
- Limiting the influence of former politicians
- Providing more accountability to the decisions of committees and sub committees.
All in all, running on a platform that directly limits the power you would be able to yield would send a strong message to voters that they're serious about changing Washington. In fact, you could consider such a platform to be something a constitutionally minded new party could run on. Republicans were formed from the abolitionist movement because the Wig party considered slavery too much of an institution to change. Nowadays, the glaring problem is the corruption in Washington itself and it's quite clear the two parties in power have no intention of limiting their own power. Sounds like a ripe platform for a new conservative minded third party to emerge.