I’m not a politician or a constitutional scholar. As a statesman I am manifestly unqualified. But so is Sean Hannity, and he didn’t let that stop him from presenting his Top Ten Items for Victory on his website and talking about it incessantly on the radio for the last week. I figure I’ve gotta be smarter than fucking Sean Hannity, right?
. . .
Anyway, I couldn’t care less about aiding one political party to victory over another. I’d rather talk about changes we could make in our federal government that might force it to function more honestly and efficiently, and enable it to actually, you know, serve the American people. So here are
Ten Reforms That Would Improve American Government Immediately
The more draconian, the better. I’m proposing a strict one-term limit for every federal elected office — congressman, senator, vice president, president. One term and you’re out. Yes, the traditional, seniority-based power structure of the legislature would be obliterated, and members of Congress would have to find reasons to elect their colleagues to committee chairmanships and minority/majority leaderships other than who’s been there the longest, but boo-fucking-hoo. The days of the career politician would be over forever in Washington, D.C.
Pay federal elected officials the minimum wage
As of this year, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives makes an annual salary of $165,200. Senators make $169,300. The Vice President makes $212,100. The President makes $400,000 a year, not counting expense and travel allowances. Median household income in the United States for 2006 was $48,201; 20% of households earned less than $20,032. When the third and final currently scheduled increase takes effect in July 2009, the federally stipulated minimum wage will be $7.25/hour — a hair over $15,000 a year before taxes, assuming a 40-hour work week. I don’t think being a member of Congress should be anyone’s career. I also think the minimum wage should be much, much higher. Let’s kill two birds with one stone, and pay all elected federal officials the minimum wage. Not only will the minimum wage suddenly skyrocket once our leaders realize firsthand how paltry it currently is, but the modest compensation will serve notice that the federal government is no longer a place for the elite to go live the high life at the expense of the taxpayers; it’s a place for men and women who want to serve their country.
Mandate a five-day, forty-hour work week for the House of Representatives and the Senate Remember the shit storm Nancy Pelosi kicked up when she announced she and her buddies in the Democratic majority were extending the congressional work week to five days? Remember when Jack Kingston, Republican Congressman from Georgia, complained that Pelosi and the Democrats wanted to destroy the families of their fellow members of Congress? Something tells me that once he and all the rest of his buddies on Capitol Hill start cashing their minimum wage checks, he’ll appreciate the extra hours (until the term limits send him packing back to Savannah). Scheduling the House to work five days was a good start, but I say we make them go all the way and have to put in a forty-hour week like most of their constituents. If they need to stay late or call an emergency session, they get time-and-a-half. It’s only fair.
Eliminate the Federal Reserve and return direct responsibility for monetary policy to Congress
With that longer work week, we can’t have our representatives and senators wasting time on the clock. Returning to them the constitutionally enumerated power (and responsibility) to “coin money and regulate the value thereof” which they abdicated to the Federal Reserve in 1913 should ensure they have plenty of work. I know that the Federal Reserve is a favorite boogie man of whack-job conspiracy theorists, but that’s not where I’m coming from here. I just see the Fed as an unnecessary institution that has helped over the last century or so to increase the worth of quite a few bankers and decease the worth of the U.S. dollar. Decisions about monetary policy that can potentially affect the lives of everyone in the country shouldn’t be made behind closed doors by appointed members of a board; they should be made by our elected representatives, fully exposed to the scrutiny of the public.
Discontinue pensions for federal elected officials
Elected federal offices should not be careers — they should be positions held by citizens, elected to serve their fellow citizens. Representatives, senators, vice presidents and presidents should not receive lifetime pensions as a result of their elected service. I’m all for pensions — I think it’s the least any company can do for its long-serving employees, and I think the federal government should continue to pay pensions to retired employees. But men and women elected to serve in Congress or the executive branch should not earn pensions for that service. Besides, once my first reform is in place they’re only gonna be there for one term per office anyway. That’s two years for a representative, six for a senator, four for a vice president and four for a president — if someone gets elected to terms in each of those offices, that’s a maximum total of sixteen years as an elected federal official. You wanna pay ‘em a pension for that?
Eliminate earmarks and riders
I think instituting strict term limits will solve many of the problems with the federal government, such as corruption and entrenchment, but just in case a few of the new guys arrive with holes in their pockets, I propose officially banning earmarks and riders from all legislation. No more millions of taxpayer dollars directed back to someone’s home district to build that bridge to nowhere or Robert C. Byrd School of Modern Dance; no more Christmas tree bills, with utterly irrelevant provisions that ban flag burning or permit warrantless wiretaps or authorize minting a Ronald Reagan commemorative gold coin attached to, say, a proclamation honoring the stage and television career of Philip Bosco; no more “poison pill” amendments to kill unwanted bills in a more politically protected way. Bills have to be coherent and consistent, and all provisions must be germane to the purpose of the legislation.
Mandate equal ballot access for minor parties in all federal elections
Another reason the federal government is failing so miserably to serve the people who empower it is the dominance of the two-party system. Under the Republicans and the Democrats, America is not so much a democracy as an oscillating oligarchy. To fix this, we need fair and equal ballot access for minor parties like the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, the Green Party, the Reform Party — and hopefully a few others will spring up that won’t be full of weirdoes. In many states, the number of signatures required for a minor party candidate to get on the ballot is far more than the number required for a Republican or Democrat. That’s not democratic. It has to change. The Constitution leaves the conducting of elections up to the states, but I see nothing anti-federalist about the federal government setting a few rules for elections to fill a federal office. Why, the preceding sentence is full of “federals.”
Give minor party candidates access to federal election campaign funds equal to those received by Republican and Democratic candidates
With term limits, the problem of federal elected officials spending more time running for re-election rather than doing the job they were elected to do will be solved. That still leaves the problem of getting good people to fill those offices. Mandating equal ballot access for minor parties will help, and so will campaign finance reform that allows candidates from minor parties to claim campaign funds equal to those available to Republicans and Democrats. The two major parties enjoy a huge advantage over the smaller parties; that’s terrific for the Republican and Democratic parties, but it ain’t so hot for democracy and America.
Require that all candidates for federal offices first pass an independently administered and evaluated test to verify their qualifications before getting their name on the ballot
To certain people this proposal will sound like a measure meant to discourage average people from running for office. That’s not the idea. It’s my most fervent hope that these reforms would reshape the federal government into something like Lincoln described in the Gettysburg Address — “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I’d just like those people to have a basic knowledge of history and American government, and be able to write well in English, that’s all. I’m not advocating we establish an American version of the Iranian Guardian Council. I’m suggesting we solicit college-level essay questions from people in relevant fields, maintain a database of those questions, and whenever someone applies to be a candidate in a federal election, we select random questions from three categories (I was thinking history, civics, and English) which the prospective candidate has to answer in 500-1,000-word essays. The answers are evaluated by experts in the respective subjects, and only candidates who write A papers get on the ballot. The entire process would be double-blind, with the candidates not knowing who will evaluate their work, and the evaluators not knowing which candidate they’re grading. The test and evaluation process could be completed any time up to the deadline to register for a particular election; it would be just another part of the necessary paperwork when filing for candidacy. It would be an independent and apolitical mechanism to help ensure we get only the best and brightest representing us in Washington, D.C.
Eliminate the native-born requirement for the presidency
In the late 18th century, when the United States was still a hundred-fifty years or so away from being a global superpower, when we were still just thirteen little colonies trying to work the kinks out of the whole constitutional government thing, when the world’s most awesome empire was still pissed-off at us for whipping its ass in the Revolutionary War and kicking it off the continent, it made a lot of sense to require that the President of the United States be a native-born American citizen. The better to exclude the filthy, traitorous monarchists. Nowadays, this requirement is not only unnecessary but un-American. It’s a central ingredient of the American dream that immigrants can come here from all over the world and become Americans, with the same rights and privileges enjoyed by us natives. I say we get rid of the native requirement for the presidency. If you’ve lived in this country long enough to become a citizen, that’s good enough for me. There must be many American citizens who were not born here, who were naturalized, who would make a splendid president (not fucking Arnold Schwarzenegger . . .). I say we give them the opportunity.
The United States Congress is presently composed entirely of Democrats and Republicans, nearly all of whom are exactly the sort of people these ten reforms are designed to expel, so none of what I have proposed will ever actually happen. With so many politicians and pundits trying to figure out winning strategies for their political parties, I just thought someone should speak out — however faintly — in favor of some changes that would benefit the people more than the parties and compel the government to work for the people instead of itself.