Here’s a question they could use on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” See how you do with it. The question is: What are the chances that a congressional incumbent, who has been in office for more than two terms, will be reelected if he runs again for office? A) Not a chance, B) Fifty-fifty, C) Between 80 and 90 percent, or D) Between 99 and 100 percent. If you have to use a lifeline, you haven’t been paying attention to the last four hundred installments of “Common Sense.”
The answer is D, between 99 and 100 percent. Sure, once in a while an incumbent Senator might get knocked out of office. But it’s rare indeed for a member of the House to lose in his district. And it is especially rare after the incumbent has survived his freshman and sophomore terms in office. The advantages of incumbency are just too great. Some of us have argued that because of Congressman Gary Condit’s tap dancing with the police during the Chandra Levy missing-person investigation, the congressman should resign. So far, he shows no signs of doing that. If he does run again, he might or might not win. But the whole sordid mess reminds us once again that it really does take a big scandal to rattle the cage of congressional incumbency. Unless a representative retires, dies, gets squeezed out of power by redistricting, or lies to police about a missing person who might be dead, he has a permanent lock on power. If what we want is a healthy and competitive democracy, that’s not a situation we should accept.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.