What is the biggest problem facing Americans? The economy? Unemployment? Terrorism? According to a recent Gallup poll it’s our government.
Maybe I should say “the government.” For the second year in a row, Gallup pollsters reveal that few think it represents us. Which is sort of a serious problem for what, after all, is supposed to be a “representative government.”
Presidential candidate Donald Trump has emphatically declared that our leaders are “stupid” — to thunderous applause and likely widespread agreement.
Were that the case, it would be far easier to correct: simply replace this bunch of bozos with new people who aren’t so bozoish — or, as Trump would say, “great people, the best people.”
The reality, however, is far worse. Oh, sure, the things that politicians in Washington have done for decades indeed appear foolish, ridiculous, brainless, insane — you pick the word. But that’s only from a public perspective, from the vantage point of others, taxpayers, regular people.
Meanwhile, the president and the hifalutin folks in Congress making all those boneheaded moves aren’t suffering one whit. They’re doing swell. The entire weight of their lack of competence seems to fall not at all upon them, but entirely upon our households, our businesses, our heads.
Sheer stupidity is never that lucky.
We don’t have a stupid problem in government; we have an ethical problem. Those entrusted to represent us are, instead, representing themselves. Charged with creating a level playing field where we can all succeed through our own smarts and hard work, our elected officialdom have tilted that field harming us all . . .
. . . except, ahem, THEM. And, of course, politically powerful special interests and their well-connected cronies.
If you have the ear of the political class, or the power to help enrich them or perhaps deliver to them a block of votes to keep their schemes going, your suffering can be ever-so-easily alleviated, and, perhaps, the tax-money spigot can even be turned on to shower you with rewards.
Can you spell Solyndra?
From Washington to our state capitols, the gravy train flows as a constantly rushing river of goodies. For insiders’ benefit. Politicians have hiked up their pay, finagled perks, per diems and other bennies, and rewarded themselves with lavish pensions — while often exempting themselves from paying Social Security taxes. Meanwhile, most Americans lack even a 401K to help save for retirement, much less a pension beyond a meager (and politician-imperiled) Social Security safety net.
If we want legislators to feel what the people feel, let’s stop taxing the people lacking pensions and struggling to pay for health insurance to provide lucrative pensions and lifetime healthcare to politicians.
Congress is no longer even required to vote on their automatic pay increases.
And it’s not any better in most states. Arkansas legislators were simply handed a 148 percent pay raise last year.
How? In 2014, they placed a measure on the ballot to create an Independent Citizens Commission, which would evaluate pay and decide on any changes. But the word “independent” was a bald-face lie. Legislative leaders chose a majority of the commission, which unsurprisingly then decided that the legislators should be paid better for part-time work than most Arkansans make full-time.
Beware this trick in your state.
And be aware there’s a good, common sense way to prevent it. Back in 2012, Alabama voters enacted a constitutional amendment that sets legislative pay at the median household income in the state. Amendment 8 passed with 69 percent support.
Heavens, actually connecting legislators’ income with the income of those they’re supposed to represent and serve! This needs to happen in every state, and for the Congress.
Transparency? You and I see it as a no-brainer — the very least we expect from government. But politicians consider it a dirty word.
Again and again, those working for us hide from us their wheelings and dealings, using private emails and personal cell phones, so the public cannot see what’s going on. And it’s not just Hillary Clinton who has conducted public business privately. Even while her scandal loomed in the headlines, Defense Secretary Ash Carter brazenly did likewise. So has Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The list goes on and on.
Let’s change the rules so that those who work for the public, cannot do their — no, wait — our business privately.
Lastly, no law should ever be enacted, nor any statute on the books be permitted to stand, which affects the public while exempting politicians. This is basic equal protection of the laws, without which our servants in government become our masters.
Can we count on our elected representatives to rectify their ethical lapses? Not on your life.
We must do it ourselves, using ballot initiatives to put ethics first.
Paul Jacob, January 10, 2016
This column first appeared at Townhall.com.