Cincinnatus, Where Art Thou?

Washington Post opinion writer Ruth Marcus is concerned about political office becoming the only field in which lack of experience is considered a job qualification.  See Those Career Politicians.  She seems to think the “permanent political class” is a good thing.  Marcus even cites James Madison’s observation in Federalist #62 that good government, among other things, requires the “knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained”  — See here — for the proposition that a government composed entirely of Cincinnati – citizen legislators – would be dangerously ineffective. Of course, that is exactly what our arguably greatest founder was. George Washington only brought the military superpower of its day to its knees and won independence, demonstrated that it is indeed possible to herd cats in his service as president of the Constitutional Convention, and established a functioning government nearly out of whole cloth as first President. Ineffective? Hardly. There are other examples throughout our history who when in and out of public life. Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were others.

The reason many criticize career politicians is not for their experience in the political arena, or lack thereof in private business, but that they tend to be in public office so long that they lose touch with the real world. They do not have to live in the economic and social climate resulting from the laws they enact or fail to enact. Many Representative and Senators, as well as their counterparts at the state level. try diligently to keep up with the plight of their constituents, but hearing about the problems a private business owner, consumer of goods and services, and ordinary citizen faces every day is not the same as directly experiencing them.  Members of Congress should go back to the private sector and to make a living there after a certain number of terms.

Longevity in office (or in private business) does not necessarily equate with great experience or increase competence.  There is a saying that one might have 20 years experience or one year experience repeated 20 times.  The value of longevity in government is more with learning and who has the pull, where the pressure points are, and how to influence peddle (or to be snarky, where the bodies are buried and which closets the skeletons are in).  And the lucre that lobbyists make tells us something. There is doubtless much subtle blackmail going on in Washington (and in every state capital) sued by the lobbyists to please their clients.

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