In relation to the already begun election cycle in this country (I feel like we can actually say campaigning has been going on for four years in preparation for this election), and in light of the disaster that has been the last decade and a half of American politics, I have a few recommendations for radically transforming the shape of our political landscape:
1. Constitutional amendment limiting terms in office for legislators. I’m thinking something to the effect of this: “No person shall serve more than twelve years as a member of Congress.” That’s 2 terms as a Senator, 6 terms as a Representative, or 1 term in the Senate and 3 in the House. No more than this for anyone, let’s not have career politicians anymore.
2. Constitutional ban on political advertising. You can campaign by making speeches, touting your record, debating, etc. But no running ads. Possible exception for yard signs and bumper stickers, they aren’t too annoying.
3. Restructure the way Congress is paid. Legislators will be paid a median (not the average) salary for their constituency with a housing allowance to pay for their DC residence. Their office will be given a staff salary budget that is intentionally small. No more chiefs of staff making 100K a year, no more 30+ person Senate staffs. Outside sources of income forbidden (to prevent corruption).
4. Requirement that members of Congress act as an official emissary of the United States at an overseas engagement at least once per term. These trips will be paid for, so this isn’t a financial burden. But it would be nice if people in Congress actually understood what happens in the world before they make decisions about what America’s role in the world will be. And then they would all have some foreign policy experience.
5. Ability of the president to veto particular amendments to a bill which add spending (in other words, pork-barrel amendments for pet-projects of legislators at home).
6. Radically limit the access of lobbyists (particularly those representing any sort of industry or commercial interest) to all branches of government. Ideally, ban them altogether, but this is probably not feasible.
7. Encourage legislative advisors/researchers to have a degree in the field they are advising on, not in political science.
Essentially, my thought is we need to make the incentive to serve as an elected official the desire to actually serve, not the desire to have a career in politics or to get rich or to have a book deal when they are done. Also, I think by making congressional representatives be, at least financially, on the same footing as the rest of us and forcing them to get out and see the way the world works outside their sphere of influence is more likely to encourage them to write good policy with real people in mind. Limiting the access of lobbyists is another safe-guard for that in my opinion. Rather than writing legislation based on the interests of corporations or industries or unions, they will be writing it based on their own experience and the knowledge of their advisors about what would make for sound policy. I think these changes coupled with a ban on political advertising would radically alter the way political discourse happens in this country (and what the priorities of politicians would be) for the better. Might also help our budget situation… But I’m also not an expert in politics by any means, I’m more a cynic. So those with more political knowledge and experience, I very much invite your comments. Where am I being short-sighted or overly cynical? What other suggestions might you have?