OPINION: A Defense of the American Political Class

Political class

Ya, ya ya …. AMERICAN POLITICS ARE CORRUPT! DOWN WITH POLITICIANS!! I get it.

But in reaction, I would say that the American political “establishment” is actually far more competent than a lot of people give them credit for, and their case is rarely heard — because everyone bashes them all the time. And they bash each other, because they have to; because American politics is nothing but theater.

But anyway, here’s why the political class just might be not as bad as you think:


 

Politics as a profession:

“I HATE THAT POLITICIANS GET PAID SO MUCH!” … I hear this ALL the time. … like, all the time. … it’s almost as if people are bitter.

But in America, politics is a profession. Deal with it.

When a representative goes to session in Washington guess what? They need a place to stay. Most of the time, Congresspeople own a condo, townhome, or they rent something. But, no matter where you stay, if you’re a representative, you do, in fact, need to go to the capitol and stay there for extended periods of time. And going to the capitol takes time and money. Thus politicians should be compensated for their time and money, right?

I mean, all jobs have this practice, right? Business expenses are paid for by your company. Correct? … So why should representatives spend out of pocket?

But guess what? They don’t get a housing allowance. In fact, some representatives actually live and shower in the House or Senate. And, if you don’t know, Washington, DC is expensive as hell — like, really expensive. And, per their benefits, they are not allowed housing allowances while in DC. And, during the extensive talks by the framing members of the Constitution, they opted to pay representatives and such, rather than have it a free service. So, today we pay Congresspeople. In fact, Benjamin Franklin was pretty much the only one who thought it should be unpaid service.

Ahhh … but then you say, “but they get paid $174,000 a year!” True. They do. They also have to maintain two residences, be away from their families, deal with the media, deal with screaming constituents, and take time from their normal jobs and lives to be able to represent people. All in all, call it compensation for their troubles … and, isn’t that an HR tactic as well? To offer good compensation for top talent? I mean really, why aren’t more people aspiring to become representatives? If the pay were too low, then we would probably have HORRIBLE representatives.

But let me break down some of the Congressional benefits:

  1. Prior to 1984, they paid no Social Security! … but they weren’t entitled to any SS either. Instead, there used to be an alternative pension system. But now, they pay SS.
  2. All health and retirement benefits are the same as any other federal employee (vested after 5 years).
  3. The only available healthcare coverage is available to them from Obamacare.
  4. To retire, they need to be at least 50, or have completed 25 years of service.
  5. Pension size is determined by years of service (but will never exceed 80% of pay).
  6. They get an annual allowance to have staff, office materials, and travel between their districts.
  7. Congresspeople can earn “outside earned income,” which means their job elsewhere. For actual salary or work, they can earn no more than 15% of their annual basic rate of pay.
  8. Most importantly, they cannot earn income that would seem to sway their decisions.
  9. And finally, they can deduct $3,000/yr for living expenses on their tax returns.

As you can see, the system is pretty much set up like any other federal job.

And here’s why not everyone is aching to be a politician: It takes time and money to run a campaign. And it takes highly generalized, yet oddly specific, skills to be able to debate, be informed of policy, and at least appear to know stuff. Not to mention to be a representative, you need to have a particular set of skills that appeals to people. I, for one, certainly don’t have those qualities.

“Joel, I’m angry that representatives get retirement packages!” Yes, they do. So to all civil servants — because, in the United States of America, civil positions are respected professions. Police get retirements; as to firefighters, teachers, state and local workers, and even county workers. Call it a bonus for choosing civil service, because, compared to the private world of enterprise, the pay is  comparatively low. So, while private jobs offer higher salaries, public positions offer a chance to secure quality, long-lasting benefits. And the same goes for healthcare — ESPECIALLY in the US; because it’s stupidly complicated and expensive to go to the doctor for anything, so people like to know they’ll at least be minimally covered indefinitely.

But yes, in the end, politicians in the US, if they stick around long enough, are entitled to benefits and a decent professional-level salary — especially when considering the substantial burden federal representatives actually go through.


 

American politicians have to pander to voters — so they lie.

OK, here is where I think the established politicians are actually far wiser than we give them credit for: they actually know how to get things done, but we won’t let them do it.

Any politician who has been governing for awhile should know: to get re-elected, you need to tell people what they want, and you have to adjust the message for the audience. So if you’re talking to working-class folks, then you better be talking about how much work is being put fourth to secure benefits (knowing they can’t dictate private employers). If you’re talking to college and university professors, you better be frank about the challenges of overcoming pieces of legislation (because professors see through BS every day). If you’re talking to churches, you better be playing your best church face (because if not, they’ll know you’re not genuine). In the end, they either frankly discuss problems, or mask them in some political message according to the crowd. In short, yes, they lie.

But the only reason they lie is to get your vote. And not only that, they will repeat popular positions and sound bites to appeal to the majority of whatever crowd it is. So, if Fox News tells millions of rural viewers that Obama wants their guns, then they will necessarily have to counteract it if they’re representing one of those districts — and yes, they know their voting demographics well. And in this way, the voters, from the bottom up, actually radicalize politicians — not the other way around.

I get the feeling that people think politicians lie to have some sort of power over them. No. Not at all. I would say they lie to get your vote, and your view is informing how they act and what they say. And I would blame parties, the Internet, conspiracy theorists, and big-box media outlets for this phenomena.

But, career politicians actually have an idea of what is going on at the Hill. But they also know that a lot of people don’t care, so they pander to whatever the dominant thought is. But, in the end, they know perfectly well what is going on, and why there are stalemates.

But then, when things don’t go the voter’s way, the average voter blames the politician — which, to me, is absurd. It’s like training a dog to do a trick, then shunning the dog when he does it. If you want politicians to listen to their constituents (and they do out of fear of being put out of office), then own up to their actions. Be against them on policy positions, by all means. But to use them as scapegoats and claim the system is somehow at fault, or it’s “rigged” — not a chance. I don’t have time for conspiracy theories.


 

Colleagues

Finally, and this is perhaps the most important aspect of professionalized politics; to be able to work with people, you have to know them and get along with them.

In any profession, and I don’t care what it is, there is a vetting process. Perhaps its going to professional conferences, informal chatting with colleagues, going to lunch or dinner, taking on a mentor, or something else to introduce others into the world of whatever it is. Politics is a profession, and I wish the American people would own up to it already. We consider lawyers and judges as professions, but why not politics?

Most people start in local or state offices, and move from there. And guess what? People get to know one another during this development. They become colleagues, and even friends. The professional world of politics is fundamentally no different than any other profession.

EVERY profession has scandal, gossip, and ethics violations — I don’t care what profession it is. But, for some reason, professional politicians are examined with microscopes (meanwhile, the fine folks at Apple or Google have the ability play with your life just as much as politicians could, and perhaps more FYI). Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for checks and balances, and ensuring people don’t get too much power, but again, the scapegoating kills me. Contrary to popular belief, politicians are not single-handedly responsible for all the world’s problems. They aren’t taking your guns. They aren’t responsible for the most-recent theft in the area.

They actually perform a function, which is to vote on legislation in the hopes that said legislation fixes a problem. And, after trying laws, they are then refined, and the process moves on. New politicians are gradually introduced to the system, professionalized, and the cycle continues. It isn’t mean to be fast, “revolutionary,” or shocking. The system ensures gradual change, development, and discourages power grabbing on any substantial level. So when all these “outsiders” start yelling, I would push back. Because shocking the system is exactly what shouldn’t happen. It throws the system off, creates confusion and chaos. And instead of gradual, sustainable, and long-lasting change, these shocks promote bickering and disagreement, which causes standstill.

Here’s a list of things I blame for today’s political standstill/circus: The Internet, big news, parties, “political outsiders,” and the refusal of a lot of old people to budge on social or fiscal issues. But, no matter how much people hate change, the American system ensures change, because it’s always moving. However, the system has seen quite a few shocks over the last few years. Between healthcare overhaul, the first black president, and increasing racial tensions, I’m pretty sure a lot of older-thinking types are reeling in, and looking to shock the system. … ehh ….

But, if we conduct a thought experiment, how do professional worlds react when outsiders come storming in and “restructure” everything? They think — “what an asshole,” and probably try to undermine that person’s credibility. And that’s where Trump comes in (because I can’t resist jabbing Trump at every chance I get). Trump is like an asteroid for an established, functioning political class.

Is the professional political system ideal? Not at all. But is an outside, narcissistic, facist dictatorial billionaire the answer? …. I’ll leave that a rhetorical question. … (but the answer is no) …

AND FINALLY: “BUT JOEL, THE MILITARY DOESN’T GET PAID THAT GOOD!” Ha! Yes, the professional echelons of the military do get paid that well … I’ll put that myth to sleep right now. Does the working class military get compensated that well? No. But what about high-ranking commissioned and non-commissioned officers? Yes, they are well compensated. … I don’t wanna hear that fluff again.

Anyway: I would prefer people actually think about what they’re mad at. Are we mad that politicians get paid $174k a year, or are we mad that no policy is being made? … Or are we mad that things aren’t going our way? Because that’s life … things rarely go anybody’s way … even for politicians and billionaires …

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One thought on “OPINION: A Defense of the American Political Class

  1. Pingback: What I learned from listening to Nigel Farage: Brexit, Trump, and the future he sees | Political Ideas and Education

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