I Used to be a Republican

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This doesn't mean that I've become a Democrat, or a Libertarian, or whatever else is out there. My values haven't changed, nor should they for anyone who believes what they believe. But, if it isn't obvious from the tone of previous political posts, I've become disillusioned with politicians in general. There is no one who is ahead of his or her time; they are incapable of working in advance of a problem, preferring to point fingers after the horse has left the barn. Congressional leadership more closely resembles playground bullying than anything mature. And I'm still awaiting for a charismatic Steven Forbes or a sane Ross Perot to step up from outside the political machinery to save our collective days. When it comes to politicians, it seems everyone who can do better, does so elsewhere.

Part of this dissatisfaction lies within the nature of the bicameral system itself. Party politics seems to result in compromises of the lowest common denominator, typically at a price to the taxpayer. Success in politics seems to be measured by what best enables a political party to gain or maintain power for power's sake rather than accomplishing anything in particular for constituents.

I don't closely follow how a person moves from public service at the local level to national positions. But it seems being a politician tends to either bring out the worst in well-intentioned people or it just attracts the worst people.

A particular example comes to mind. I lived in Birmingham, AL for about five years. To support the local arts community, voters approved a special tax on various activities to be dedicated to furthering the arts in its many forms. The issues with funding the local symphony was a major continuing embarrassment for the city, and unless one is strictly against taxation, the need was apparent and the method seemed a fair one.

After it was passed, the City Council immediately diverted the existing funding already designated to the arts to other purposes, leaving the "arts tax" as the sole funding mechanism. Classic bait and switch. Outrage? Maybe one editorial. Accountability? None.

On the national stage, there seems even less accountability. The power of the vote itself represents a means for change, but given the power of incumbent funding, change is difficult. The Republican "sweep" in 1994 or the pending Democrat surge may indicate otherwise, but changeovers in Party control have more to do with discontent with either the President and/or Party in power rather than with a particular public servant.

Good ideas in politics are fairly rare. My favorite is the Republican's "Contract For America" for the 1994 elections. The action items themselves are not the point here, but the concept itself. The Contract listed 10 items to accomplish within the first 100 days of Congress and nationalized a campaign platform for Republicans everywhere. In a business sense, it provided clear performance expectations and a standard by which to judge them. What happens, or what doesn't happen, beyond the initial 100 days is not the point (unless it was followed by #11-#20), but regardless of how unpopular Newt Gingrich became, it's surprising that neither Party adopted this very effective means of communicating their priorities to voters. I guess they're either out of ideas or afraid someone will hold them accountable.

So, with one week remaining of the attack ads, campaign litter, daily polling data, and bumper stickers, I'm very much looking forward to getting beyond this ritual of futility and enjoying whatever amusements befall me.

I suppose I can sum my feelings thusly: If you put your faith in politicians, you'll always be disappointed. But, I don't see any other countries in which I'd prefer to live, so here's my suggestion for any political operatives out there who scour obscure and irrelevant blogs.

Reese's proposed Contract for America:

#1 Constitutional Justification. All legislation entered for consideration will be reviewed for Constitutional authority. Let's not wait for the court system to weigh in, please. Nationalizing airport security personnel? Buying shares in private corporations? Set standards, enforce them, and step out of the way.

#2 Honesty in Spending. The term "government funding" (and all equivalents thereof) will be prohibited. This includes interviews, memos, budgets, proposals or any other communication. The term which should be used is "taxpayer funds" or other reference clearly discernible to mean the same thing. There is no such thing as government money; let's not pretend that taxpayers don't pay for it.

#3 Separation of legislation and spending Bills. Don't hide behind reams of paper for that pet project. Let's make ourselves transparent. Don't force a President to approve stupid things in order to get the important things done.

#4 Financial honesty. Enough of the Social Security lock box. We know we're spending far more than we take in, so let's be honest and add Social Security (and any other off-budget tricks) to the general budget so we can clearly see just how far in a hole we are. We understand that this would just make it harder to justify additional spending.

#5 Necessity for Spending. Any proposed new expense should be accompanied by an explanation of why it is appropriate that the expense be shared by all taxpayers across this great nation. Is it a national interest? Or a local one? But we're not done yet.

The American public is taking a lot of grief for not living within their means. Congress? Just another day in the office. Given that entitlements, Defense, and core operations/obligations consume the Federal budget, the justification for each spending decision should also include why the expense is so important that it requires borrowing to pay for it. Good luck with that one.

#6 Line Item Veto. Let's have Congress go ahead and make it Law. Then the Supreme Court can have a law to judge it by, rather than an unsupported Executive action.

#7 Term Limits. To pretend that "public servants" should have a separate career and donate their time, for a short period, to the governance of this Country is no longer realistic, sadly. To impose a limit of two terms on Congress would largely transfer the power of knowledge and experience to the hordes of aides and special interests who hang around far longer and who would become the true power brokers. Still, we don't need career politicians. 3 terms max, whether House or Senate, or maximum 18 years should someone try doing both to double their permitted time.

#8 No special benefits. Retirement plans, health plans, etc. should all be procured on the open market and similar to those provided by Fortune 100 companies. And the benefits should conclude at the end of their service, just like for us regular folk.

#9 Accounting. We're so far in debt, a little more won't hurt. (This will meet the necessity requirement stated earlier). Let's hire one or more of our fine national accounting firms to investigate the labyrinth of government finances to tell us three things:

a) All the money coming in is accurately counted and accounted for.
b) All expenses are accurately counted and accounted for.
c) Both of the above remain authorized by active Congressional approval. "Oh, I thought we stopped spending on that years ago!" kind of thing...

Does anyone trust that there is a Quicken or Quickbooks program that actually keeps a running total? I think not.

#10 Fairtax.org. This doesn't change spending one iota, but deserves a fair hearing for a revolutionary change for America as the preferred place of doing business in the world. Congress should be brave enough to at least take a serious look beyond the political posturing and other avoidance mechanisms.

I suppose a Contract for America should be limited at ten items. Heck and I didn't even get to the "third rail" of Social Security or a Balanced Budget Amendment. No politician is stupid enough to mess with those. Until, like most everything else, there's no choice left but to deal with it.

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