Recently Patrick Cleburne wrote in an important blog
"Personally, though, I still think the more persuasive explanation is that these Senators are selfish, corrupt, and unAmerican."
I think there is a serious problem with the senate as an institution. Originally, the Senate was intended to represent "established interests"
and to keep the government of the United States from changing rapidly with the tides of public opinion. The problem, as was noted
by Tom Piatak, is that the United States political life is no longer managed by a "Burkean elite"
—but by elites that are essentially "feeding"
by liquidating assets created by prior elites.
I also think that the article cited was a bit inaccurate in its characterization of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. Graham didn`t entirely make a choice between "family and career."
Graham`s parents died when he was a young serviceman, and, with the support of his military employers, Graham returned to South Carolina to attend law school and adopted his younger sister.
Whatever my differences with his politics, that is an intensely responsible act that deserves credit. I don`t see Graham as a "selfish"
individual so much as someone that is so intensely focused on the urgent needs of those near and dear to him, he lost sight of the bigger picture.
In the Oliver Stone biography of Richard Nixon, that Nixon says that the only way for a poor man (albeit quite talented, Nixon came from a family of very modest means)
to get ahead in politics was "kissing ass."
That describes the US Senate today: it is a club for extremely wealthy people
—and those willing to toady to wealthy interests
in the most extreme fashion.
Inequality of income is only part of the picture. Kennedy and McCain both came from families with substantial wealth. Rumor has it that it required $5 Million in strategic donations to buy off Harvard University officials after Teddy`s cheating indiscretion
to permit graduation in waiver of Harvard`s rules for mere mortals. The profile of men who marry heiresses like McCain and Brownback is typical neither of the population as a whole, or men of extreme accomplishment.
The original intent of the US Senate was to act as ambassadors from the State legislatures. Popular election of senators has proven itself to be largely a money contest—practically election by auction.
It is clear that there is money to be made by liquidating the assets of the broad base of the American public in service of the wealthy.
I favor fundamental changes to the US political process. Electing state congressional delegations via proportional representation—as leaders like Dennis Kucinich
have endorsed-would give much representation to Americans. There are strong indications that this would fundamentally improve the situation with US immigration policy. While there may be problems with democracy, the immigration policy crisis in the US is not the result of too much democracy, but by a government that overly insulated
from the will of the people.
That leaves the question of what to do with the Senate. I think the basic idea of a bicameral legislature has served the US well over time. While a return to election of Senators by state legislatures might be an improvement, that isn`t the only option here. A while back, some Brits were having a debate about how to reform their House of Lords. One interesting idea that was proposed was to give seats automatically to people of extreme accomplishment. Under that proposal, for example, British Nobel prize winners would automatically be given a seat in the House of Lords. In the case of the US, a strengthening of existing institutions like the National Academy of Sciences might be in order.
I agree that the Senate is full of vile, disgusting creatures. Men of genuine accomplishment are sadly an anomaly there. The existence of the K Street Lobbying
industry is a national disgrace. The American people deserve a group of leaders completely focused on managing America—not preparing to "cash out"
on book deals or making speeches for foreign potentates-or worried about how to make payments on expensive Georgetown
I think there is some merit in Singapore`s practice of greatly increasing the pay of their political officials while tightening the financial regulations politicians find themselves under. Campaign donation practices common in the US would be considered bribery in much of the world. Ideally, I would tie congressional compensation and pensions to some ratio of the median income in the US so regular debates on pay are less necessary.
I would also set up an independent monitoring of Senate and house ethics via a Citizen`s assembly(a jury of citizens selected at random
from the voter rolls like British Columbia recently used for electoral reform
Ultimately, the problems in the Senate aren`t an issue of the weakness of character of the individuals involved, but the type of political process and culture we Americans have-and the type so character it selects for.