The following is a Guest Editorial that was recently published in our local newspaper. I found myself agreeing with this writer again and again … and I tend to think many of my readers will do the same.
For your reading pleasure …
“A pox on all their houses!”
“Toss the Bums out!”
I have heard this refrain for as long as I can remember. And I am old.
It is an understandable sentiment. People believe that they voted for someone who was going to represent them, drain the swamp, listen to the voices of the citizenry, bring change. But little if any of that happened. Now election time is coming again and the new crop of candidates is making all those promises again, and again we hear a chorus of “Toss the bums out!”
There are some bums in the mix, to be sure. A few names jump immediately to mind. But it is likely that the problem isn’t just bums. The problem is a system that rewards bumlike behavior and punishes honesty.
To run for office, national office in particular, one must be a full-time candidate for months ahead of the election. No one who works for a living can do that, so the candidates of late are all rather fabulously rich. Joe Biden was the least wealthy of all major presidential candidates in 2020 and he is a multi-millionaire. That means that we rarely elect people who have lived our lives. They are unlikely to have ever made a list of past due dates for bills so they could, hopefully, pay them just in time to avoid late fees. They just don’t get it. Pretty much none of them.
And the cost of elections and the length of campaigns just keeps growing. That is not only because it takes time to get a name out there. It is also because of the obscene cost of running a campaign. The result of that cost is the need to spend a lot of time fundraising. That, in turn, means that candidates are wooing big donors, i.e. those special interests we love to hate. Unions, the gun lobby, big pharma, big oil, not to mention the necessary wad of cash from one of the major parties. Time spent with those mega donors means that your donation of $5, $100 or $1,000 has no influence attached.
It also means that if elected, we will all doubt if decisions by the new office holder to support or oppose something come out of conviction or out of financial self interest. All this is, of course, made worse by perfectly legal dark money. (Thank you, Citizens United.) We too often have no idea from where millions of dollars in donations originate, so we don’t even know to whom a candidate may be beholding.
Now, let’s say a candidate survives all this and is elected to national office. They will be a part of a Constitutional system created nearly 250 years ago in a series of compromises. Those compromises were probably necessary at the time if this nation was going to survive at all, but many of them now only serve to give a minority of voters outsize influence on elected officials. The electoral college, created to appease slave states; the Senate, created to appease rural states; the House, created to appease urban states; the filibuster, just a senate rule, not a law, all serve a system in which the majority of American citizens cannot, regardless of whom they elect, get the change they desire. Even in presidential elections, the popular vote has failed to select a winner five times in our history! A minority of officials representing a minority of voters can prevent any change from taking place.
So, the bum you elected may try to do the things they promised, but they will too often be stopped by a system that is very hard to change unless those elected through it, and whose continued power depends on maintaining it, want that change to occur. That bum-encouraging system will be changed only if We the People make enough noise about it. In the meantime, noticing the efforts to do the right thing by those we elect is important, whether it succeeds or not. Blaming a single person for failing to succeed against a 250 year old system supported by the wealth and interests of those in power and with an inside influence track is shortsighted and unfair. Be careful which bums you vote to throw out. Some may be on the side of the angels.
The newspaper provided the following credit for the article:
[Name withheld] is a retired Joseph Lane Middle School teacher. Currently living in Portland, she and her husband raised their three children in Roseburg.