In the very early Eighties our youngest sister went to Smith College in Northampton, MA. Back then, as now, Smith was a hot bed of leftist True Think with a frightening mixture of rabid feminism and incipient Political Correctness. For four years she slaved away after her degree in Mathematics, finally returning home with her diploma.
As you might imagine, she also came home with a slightly more left-of-center world view than she had departed with. Our father, a curmudgeonly fiscal conservative, alternated between amusement and despair whenever politics were discussed at dinner. He finally fell back in to the old standby of “when you can’t show ‘em, shock ‘em.” One exchange that comes to mind quite clearly came when our sister and her live-in boyfriend of the time stopped by for dinner. My parents are not prudes so this was not an unusual thing, and they actually liked ‘Geoffrey’ a lot, despite his socialist take on the human condition.
That evening we were digging in to chicken parmigiana while Geoffrey waxed philosophical on the failure of government to effectively deal with poverty. Dad, never one to pass up a good straight line, began taking him to task over the multiple billions of dollars already spent to aid the poor. What did Geoffrey want to do, throw more good money after bad? Then Geoffrey made the mistake: he asked my father what he thought the government should do.
My father looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Just make me Emperor for two years. Give me complete control of society and in two years there won’t be any more poor people.”
Looking for the entire world like a deer in the headlights of an on-rushing Mack truck Geoffrey asked him how that would happen.
“Simple: After two years the malingerers will have jobs and all the others will have starved.”
Our dad is a nice guy. No, really!-- he paid to have Geoffrey’s shirt cleaned after he spit a mouthful of chicken and marinara sauce all over himself.
Eventually my sister was forced back to reality by the Great Equalizer: she got a job, saw all that cash being sucked out of what should have been an impressive paycheck for all her hard work and began to wonder just what she was getting for her money. Welcome back, sis.
The reason that particular episode sticks out is that it was the first time we were clued in to a Basic Truth: where governments are concerned tinkering around the edges rarely fixes problems. Even Thomas Jefferson noted that a healthy government probably needs a good revolution every now and then just to keep it fresh and vital. With everything that is and has been going on in Washington we think this idea deserves a new examination, so here we are to toss out a modest proposal.
First, Presidential Elections are irritating to no end. The heck with this Campaign Finance Reform stuff; let’s just do away with the election all together. Let the Senate elect the President and then he can appoint a Vice President with the approval of the House of Representatives. They’ll serve for six or seven years and then are replaced. We should also ease the rules for removing anyone who turns out to be a bum. This change accomplishes a couple of things: it removes the Presidential Election as a source of corruption, and it restores the proper perspective to the relationship between Congress and the Executive. The Imperial Presidency that most of us have grown up with is a holdover from the end of World War II where the President retained an inordinate amount of power due to the semi-state of war that existed between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. This was never the intent of the Founding Fathers who wanted most of the political power to be in the hands of Congress.
As for the Senate, we believe it actually works pretty well as is in that it was designed to be the stabilizing force in the Legislative branch. The House of Representatives is where the real change needs to come. People seem to think that because Representatives only serve two-year terms they have no real power, but nothing could be further from the truth. Collectively the House outweighs the Senate and the Presidency and as such it needs to be more accountable to the people. We would make it so by simply returning it to the people. Do away with elected Representatives and institute a draft.
One fine day, there is a knock on your door. There stand two Federal Marshals. One of them hands you a letter. “Congratulations!” the letter would read, “You have been chosen by the Selective Service Administration to serve your Congressional District as its Representative to the House for a period not to exceed three years.” They give you five minutes to pack a small overnight bag, kiss the spouse and kids goodbye, and then bundle you off to do your duty.
We could run a draft every year, replacing a third of the House each time so that there would always be a group of Representatives present who were familiar with the way things worked. As far as restrictions go, limit eligibility to any citizen over age 21 who has not been convicted of a crime in the past five years and we would also suggest that no one be allowed to serve consecutive terms. You might be drafted again (unlikely, given the numbers) but never twice in a row. A final restriction that is almost always suggested by anyone with whom we have ever discussed this: no lawyers in the House.
Beyond the very simple restrictions we would add dispensations for extreme medical situations and the like, but still make it very difficult to weasel out of serving. We also would need to take a close look at compensation, job retention and the fulfillment of contracts and other obligations that might have been entered in to before the prospective Representative was drafted. While this might seem a daunting task we must remember that we would only need to deal with about 150 people a year. Somehow we have to think that the government has the resources to deal with this.
Why do we like this idea? As we understand it (and we freely admit that we are not Constitutional scholars) the House of Representatives was supposed to be the voice of the Citizen in our government. It was intended that Representatives be ordinary citizens who served a term or two then returned to their normal lives. As anyone can plainly see this is no longer the case and has not been for some time. A drafted House rectifies this situation in a simple, brute-force fashion. Spare me the smarmy, glad-handing politician seeking our vote - we want our Representatives dragged kicking and screaming in to office. They would be housed in comfortable, but relatively inexpensive dorms or condos in Washington and, when in session, the Representatives would wear identical lime-green or international orange jump suits with their name stenciled on the front and their Congressional District number on the back. A GPS tracking anklet would attached to each draftee as they arrive so should they try to leave Washington before Congress adjourns, alarms would go off and the recalcitrant Representative could be returned to finish out their term.
Assuming we could force this idea through the existing political process, what would the over-all effect be? First, the President would at least have the support of the Senate, and he would be very much aware that he served at the Senate’s pleasure. The President would be merely Commander-In-Chief and leader of the Executive, as the Constitution intended. The House would be about as non-partisan as one could imagine since the selection process would be free of any consideration of party affiliation. The People (that’s all of us) would be spared most of the election year displays of lying and corruption as the only officials actually elected would be the Senators. The country could save a lot of money and angst.
Another very positive effect would be that a lot less would get done in Washington DC. With the House in the hands of citizens unbeholden to any outside forces or special interests, what is the incentive to act on anything but the most critical issues? Remember: it is in the House that all spending and budget bills originate. Who better to assess the costs and predict the benefits of programs than those who struggle day to day to make ends meet and who often find themselves at the mercy of laws passed by a Legislature that felt it just had to ‘Do Something’? It frightens us to think of a Congress that feels it has to make new laws every day to placate its money-laden masters. Furthermore, since we take away the need to keep an eye always turned to the re-election campaign, our Representatives should feel liberated to vote their conscience based on their understanding of the law and the Constitution. We would still have the Supreme Court to correct any egregious mistakes, but since we should see fewer laws being passed in the first place there shouldn’t be too many mistakes to deal with.
A President who is very much aware that he is not king, a House peopled with Representatives from every sector of society, absolutely devoid of the corrupting influences of special interest money and election year grandstanding. Yes, we could enjoy living in that America.
Now, about that pesky 16th Amendment…
A few more updates:
First, our sister has once again leaned towards the dark side, having shifted far more to the left over the years, though she's still nowhere near as bad as she was once she graduated from college. It didn't help that her husband (not “Geoffrey”, but someone we all like even more), is also from the left side of the aisle. But both of them are reasonably well educated, experienced, and haven't fallen in to the trap of letting others think for them. We've had more than a few excellent debates about politics and there have been times when minds on one side or the other of the debate have been changed.
Second, I think if the President were to be elected by the Senate, it should be someone not presently serving in Congress. It could be a former member of the Senate or House, a former Cabinet member, a governor or former governor, but no one presently serving. And to prevent a potential Presidential candidate from resigning from the Senate in order to become eligible, there would have to be a waiting period on the order of four to six years after leaving the Senate before being considered for President.
One other thing for consideration: to shorten the period when Congress will be in session, air conditioning should be banned from the offices of Senators and Representatives, as well as both chambers of the Capitol Building. Washington DC was built on a swamp, hence the nickname 'Foggy Bottom'. If it's too hot and humid for Congress to meet, they'll stay home and have less time to get into trouble with the taxpayers' money and unnecessary laws creating unneeded regulations