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In a recent Linkedin story written by Richard Branson, the billionaire of Virgin Atlantic fame, he defends Democracy and calls on Democracies everywhere to consider looking at successful businesses and their structures as a role model presumably for better government. He makes note of China’s speedy economic growth and how they are able to move quickly and without gridlock. He then goes on to suggest government could cut costs by eliminating so many representatives we have now, and instead paying the remaining fewer representatives more money.
According to Branson:
“..Research has shown paying politicians more improves quality, and a talented, diverse new generation of people who would be attracted to positions where they could make a difference.”
First off I am not sure what research he is referring to but that sounds like a terrible idea. If anything we already pay politicians particularly US Congressmen far too much for too little return on investment. I fail to see how having less representatives somehow gives people equal or more representation than they already have now. It would appear Branson would like to see power concentrated into the hands of just a few representatives and given a freer hand to get things done. What “things” would remain to be seen, but you can be sure you and I won’t have a say in it if he gets his way.
Also, how does offering more pay for abysmal performance make for better representatives? For far too long we have elected people whose self-interest was the primary motivating factor for going into public service. You want to really start fixing things you have to change this paradigm. Political office currently attracts those seeking power, influence and money. How does that equate to good representation for the people? In the private sector money attracts more talent but does the type of person drawn to money, power, and influence make the best representatives of people who come from diverse backgrounds, cultures and economic conditions?
In today’s society once these money and power hungry people take office is it rational to believe that they will somehow shelve their own personal interests that have driven them their entire lives, and expect them instead to suddenly become altruistic and put their country and constituent’s needs first? I don’t think so. Offering more money like Branson suggests to attract a new diverse generation will only attract different sharks to the same pool, not better representatives.
We have drifted from the principle ideas of true representative government, perhaps out of ignorance or apathy I don’t know but we have grown too comfortable electing and putting our blind faith and trust in these type of people. The very same kind that thinks it’s okay to spy on you, lie to Congress, and ignore the Constitution.
In my view the compensation for any elected politician should be primarily the opportunity to serve the people. That should be reward enough. A small salary plus costs reimbursement should be in place but that’s it. Also there should be cumulative term limits for all those in public service. After eight or ten years in public life, that’s it, you’re off the public dole and you have to go find a real job or start a business of your own. The days of career politicians should be numbered.
The Congress is supposed to be a snapshot of the American people. All of them not just the successful power hungry ones that come from five or six different career professions primarily. One of the major problems I have noticed and have written about in the past is the demographics of the USA and the demographics of Congress are dramatically different.
In John Adams’s Thoughts on Government, Adams wrote about Congress saying
“..It should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.”
Ask yourself the question, do our current Congressmen and woman think, feel, and act like you? They probably don’t and most of you would probably have little in common with them.
I wonder what kind of people would then be attracted to public service if pay for elected office was nominal, had little perks, and service was required to end after a few years. Would we be better off represented by Joe Citizen, the plumber, the baker, the teacher, or the software guy who took four or six years off from his live to “serve” a bigger purpose? Would we get a better return on our investment than leaving it in the hands of the “political professionals”? Would people step up and do the job? I think they would despite what other political hacks might think.
Lastly, while I oppose government bureaucracy just like the next guy, some gridlock is not necessarily a bad thing, despite what Richard Branson, the business mogul thinks. Our system of government was built with gridlock in mind to prevent hastily written laws that have bad consequences later. The intention was not to put laws in place that could easily be changed or circumvented at the whim of the people, businesses or political influences of the moment. The government was structured so that the passions of the people and various special interests were to be given time to cool off, and rational discussion and input from all interested parties could follow before legislation was to be enacted. As Justice Scalia once said in support of the argument that the Constitution should be interpreted as the framers intended “If the Constitution means whatever we think it means today, why have a Constitution. Just have a legislature.”
In summary Branson’s off the cuff idea would further disenfranchise the average American citizen and would concentrate more power into the hands of an elite few and keep it there. I think he should stick to his business and leave We the People’s business alone.
Since our founding, and even more so after the turn of the 20th century, America has proven exceptional in many ways compared to the other nations on Earth. She stands in stark contrast to say Russia whose people who do not have a history of freedom and independence. The Russian people it seems have always been ruled by various tribal war lords, czars, brutal dictators, petro billionaire mobsters, or variations of the same theme. With Putin in command they seem to be reverting back to the Cold War days of Stalin. Russians have always known great suffering under oppressive regimes when they were’t too busy inflicting suffering upon others around them. There paranoia is legendary some of which may be justified given their past experiences in WWII but make no mistake Stalin’s regime was every bit as evil and repressive as Hitler’s.
America by contrast has proven resourceful and resilient. Her people by and large are happy and even the most poor among us do not suffer the same hardships like say people from Bangladesh or India suffer. She is blessed with abundance in most everything. She has for the most part been a nation of religious people, at least more so than other nations and as a result her willingness to share from that great abundance is more than most nations. Frequently she displays generosity in times of crisis or need throughout the world. Lastly the promise of freedom and hope that her political institutions and laws has offered provide hope to people from all over the planet who come here (some illegally) seeking asylum and opportunities they cannot find elsewhere. This has been the America I grew up to be proud of and love.
Indeed many of America’s past leaders like John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan invoked the image from the bible parable of a shining city on a hill when describing America. President Ronald Reagan in his January 11, 1989, farewell speech to the nation said ”I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still..”. This is a strong vision for America and one in which our people need to still recognize. I have hope that we can still be that country.
Like it or not, America was, when the smoke and the bodies were cleared away after WWII, one of only two great superpowers left standing. In the end a confrontation of ideas had to take place as they could not co-exist and we won defeating Soviet communism. We were left with the role of world policeman and a growing appetite for debt.
Since then America has made colossal mistakes, not the least of which was arrogantly and unilaterally invading Iraq without declaration of war or real concrete evidence to justify it. That war I believe did irreparable harm. Our trust in our leaders was once again shaken and America’s role as leader of the free world and a reputation as a country that stands for what is right and just was compromised. The world after Iraq could easily say look at America, they are not much different than any of history’s other imperial empires. With the recent revelations of our spying on our allies made by Edward Snowden we continue to lose more credibility with those we call friends. In a nut shell we have lost the moral high ground and our reputation on the world stage is tarnished.
Economically we are broke and having a closet socialist as a President does not help give confidence to the financial engines that drive our free market economy and stimulate recovery. Do you know any business right now that is hiring in large numbers, or banks investing large amounts of capital on new ideas and inventions? I don’t and I bet you don’t either. They’re few and far between. Obama gets a vote of no confidence from most small businesses in America too despite what you might hear on television.
So this brings me to the latest headlines and the Ukraine. The old America would never let stand Putin’s country grabbing. The old America having signed treaties like the one with the Ukraine and promising to prevent Russia from forcing the Ukraine back into their political hemisphere in exchange for giving up nukes, would fight back against Putin. The America of old would stand by its word. Can you see John Kennedy backing down now or Reagan? How about Obama? Well? The truth is the old America would not even be in this political foreign policy predicament. Russia would have respected the USA’s ability to crush them economically with sanctions and militarily if need be, and so would never dream of invading Ukraine a free and sovereign country with whom we have ties and a treaty.
A clear and present danger today exists in American foreign policy and that is respect. Having lost the moral high ground after Iraq, and financially teetering on disaster after the last few years of Obama in the White House we appear weak. The Russians think so and I bet the Chinese think so and the Islamic fascists in the Middle East think so too.
My libertarian side wants us to stay out of this mess. How can we afford to do anything over there when we can’t take care of business at home. It might seem like George Washington’s advice regarding alliances might be a good idea. However as someone once said power abhors a vacuum. Step down from the world stage like Ron Paul or other libertarians advocate and you can be sure that Russia and China will fill in the void. What about those other countries we promised we would protect? You know our allies. Can you see other former Soviet states who fought for their independence fall back under Moscow’s control? Is Poland next? How about Taiwan?
It has been our country’s policy right or wrong to make the world safe for Democracy since WWII. Other smaller nations expect this and look to us for leadership. We fought hot and cold wars against totalitarian aggression on multiple continents and our old foes Russia and China are the same now as they were then regardless of what new image they like to spin or how many cheap manufactured things they sell to us at Wal-Mart. They are bullies in the world’s school yard always have been and always will be.
Perhaps in a perfect world we never would have taken on the role as leader of the free world or world cop but that is the role that was thrust upon us. We cannot sit idly yet the question becomes what can we do now. I think not very much. No matter how you look at it this, it does not end well for the people of Ukraine or our image. There is still much work to do but I’m afraid there is not enough time, money, allies, or fortitude left.