"I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University." ~ William F. Buckley
As long as we're tearing up the Constitution and inventing a fun, new batch of unfunded, unfounded rights and goodies for the American people to be "given" by the Feds (who have nothing to give but debt and despair), I have a modest proposal of my own: Disenfranchise everyone! At least for federal offices -- representatives, senators, and the presidency. Consider this: In a year of economic devastation, Barack Obama raised $745 million and John McCain raised a little over $100 million. When you add in all the money raised by senators and reps, that is well over $1 billion in money raised simply to influence politics. How much better would it have been for the country for people to have kept their money and used it for their families, churches, charities and communities? $1 billion frittered away in ephemeral advertising and campaign rallies versus $1 billion poured into things that really matter day-to-day for people -- what a concept!
Was it in 1996 that I read in a column by genius economist and all-around hunk Walter E. Williams that, really, who is President ought not to matter so much in a nation of laws not of men? It ought not to be this do-or-die situation where the average citizen feels (as I did in 2004 and 2008) that the entire trajectory of the country rests on the shoulders of whatever man ascends to the highest office. If we hold fast to the Constitution and the powers limited therein, a Democrat or Republican as Commander-in-Chief ought to be able to sway the direction only in the most minute of ways. Of course, over the last century at least, this has not been the case. As the federal government has assumed unto itself more and more power -- aided and abetted by the Supreme Court in most cases -- people have to deal with its assertion of control and influence over their lives to a greater and greater degree. And so, when a federal election comes along, they fight for their values with the most facile tool they have -- money.
So, here is a radical idea that will never take, but I have ruminated upon often in my moments of leisure: Eliminate federal elections. Instead, have the seats in both houses of Congress and the presidency filled in a way similar to jury duty, except with a few more restrictions. Here is how I have fine-tuned my idea to work:
Every American citizen between the ages of 50 and 70 who owns his own residence and has never been convicted of a felony is in the pool to fill federal offices, which are randomly drawn and filled at the appropriate time allotted -- i.e. Reps every 2 years; Senators every 6 years; President every 4 years. Why the ages of 50 to 70? Because by the age of 50 you ought to have accomplished something with your life -- held a job, had a family, functioned as a citizen -- and your children should pretty much be grown and gone from home to function on their own. After the age of 70, you deserve the right to rest from your labors and not have to deal with the hassles of possible government service. Why the stipulation of owning your residence? Because if, between the ages of 50 and 70, you have not assumed the responsibility of property ownership, then you probably are not either mentally or morally capable of voting upon legislation that affects your fellow citizens. Our founders understood that, to appreciate liberty you need a sense of responsibility -- a stake in the system, as it were -- and that property ownership is one of the easiest objective ways to measure that sense. And why no felons? Well, I would think that is pretty obvious.
The benefits of this change would be two-fold. The first would be the tremendous amount of private and public resources saved when you need not fund expensive elections. Think about that. States and cities could still have elections, but not the feds. This would in turn bolster federalism -- the idea that states' rights are important and competition between the states is the lifeblood of a free republic. Also, and perhaps most deliciously, you would eliminate career politicians at the federal level. Savor that a moment. Term limits wouldn't be an issue, because all the legislators and the chief executive would rotate out like clockwork, bringing new faces, blood, and ideas into those stodgy halls at their appointed times.
I like to think of President Washington's serving out the two terms that he felt obligated to fulfill, all the while dreaming of the day he could scurry back to Mount Vernon to live out his life in peace as a gentleman farmer. I would like to think of a future time when Joe Smith -- Boeing engineer, father of two college students, resident of Bellevue, WA -- opens his mailbox and groans, "Oh gawd! I have to go serve as President for four years. Crikey!" You know, just like how we all respond to jury duty summons! It makes me, I confess, a little giddy.
When Sarah Palin was selected by John McCain for the 2008 GOP ticket, I read a great essay about her appeal by Bill Whittle on NRO Weekend (Spet. 5, 2008) with this money quote:
She is so absolutely, remarkably, spectacularly ordinary. I think the magic of Sarah Palin speaks to a belief that so many of us share: the sense that we personally know five people in our immediate circle who would make a better president than the menagerie of candidates the major parties routinely offer. Sarah Palin has erupted from this collective American Dream — the idea that, given nothing but classic American values like hard work, integrity, and tough-minded optimism you can actually do what happens in the movies: become Leader of the Free World, the President of the United States of America. (Or, well, you know, vice president.)
While I do understand that Sarah Palin's intelligence and charisma are far above "ordinary," it is her background that is so resoundingly sane and wholesome and relatable. Millions upon millions of Americans live the pre-2008 Sarah Palin life every day. And, Mr. Whittle is right: I personally know about 15 people who could serve this nation better than the scalawags and hooligans currently ensconced. I think that, with a random drawing of citizens using the current restrictions I have envisioned, we would have a far less likely chance of getting real stinkers in office. And, if they are extremely odiferous, they will be gone before they can do much damage. No random pick of 435 people would give us all at once a Nancy Pelosi, a Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, an Alan Grayson, a Patrick Kennedy, and a Barney Frank -- not even in CA, FL, RI and MA respectively is the general, functioning citizen that insane, inept, or disgusting -- and even if the odds were beat, they would all be gone in 2 years. Our Republic can stand 2 years of just about anything. And no bill written by normal, reasonably competent American citizens would resemble the Frankenbill passed last Sunday in the House and signed by the Feckless One.
To anyone who might make the argument that ending federal elections would keep the political cream from rising to the top, I answer, "Good!" Look at the political cream now, and tell me you do not long for some skim milk. Except, it wouldn't be skim milk; it would be a colorful array of citizen legislators and a perfectly ordinary, beautiful, sensible Commander-in-Chief. As much as I appreciate Sarah Palin and will work for her and donate to her should she decide to run for President, I would be just as happy to see good, ol' Joe Smith from Bellevue rotated into the White House in January 2013, much to his annoyance and consternation. And then to see him rotated back out in 2017 to the joy of his beautiful wife, Helen and his employers at Boeing. Our founders never intended that "politician" should ever be a career in these United States.