Open Letter 3 to Michael Steele, Chairman of the Republican National Committee
The U.S. is suffering the effects of a degraded political system. The system is complex, but it only takes one principled and courageous political party to stand up and work to change a very few things. The task will not be easy, nor will the change happen overnight, but it can and must be done if we are not to see our precious form of government perish from the earth.
Chairman Michael Steele:
Our nation is suffering the three-fold results of an increasingly degraded political system:
- Dramatic increases in the tax burden on our citizens
- Radical reductions in individual liberties
- Significant damage to the economy
Unfortunately, the law of entropy works as effectively in the social and political realms as it does in the realm of physics. John Stuart Mill warned in Considerations of a Representative Government:
“…[A] people may prefer a free government; but if, from indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice, or want of public spirit, they are unequal to the exertions necessary for preserving it; if they will not fight for it when it is directly attacked; if they can be deluded by the artifices used to cheat them out of it; if, by momentary discouragement, or temporary panic, or a fit of enthusiasm for an individual, they can be induced to lay their liberties at the feet even of a great man, or trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions – in all these cases they are more or less unfit for liberty; and though it may be for their good to have had it even for a short time, they are unlikely long to enjoy it.”
Now, it is no doubt that it is we, the general voting public, who are responsible for the current state of governments (federal, state and local) in the United States. However, the Republican Party now has before it the grand opportunity to take the lead in bringing our nation out of its present state of degradation. However, to do so, the Party must first understand what needs to change.
What needs to change
As I have reminded you in previous messages, it appears that for both Republican and Democrat officeholders, the controlling principle is none other than “get re-elected.” But, if we dig deeper, there are reasons for this.
Follow this chain of reasoning with me to see if you do not agree:
- IF seniority in legislative bodies is usually determined by the relative number of terms served by each officeholder;
- THEN re-election is one of the most important conditions to increasing the power of the officeholder.
- IF individuals (including officeholders) tend to act in their own best interests
AND officeholders’ salaries and perks are often a very strong attraction to the officeholder
AND officeholders’ prestige, excitement, and power are often a strong attraction to the officeholder;
- THEN the primary goal of each typical officeholder is re-election.
- IF the primary goal of each typical officeholder in an entire body of officeholders (e.g., House of Representatives, Senate);
- THEN legislative bodies will tend to institute policies and procedures that support and encourage re-election as a goal for its members.
- IF legislative bodies tend to institute policies and procedures that support and encourage re-election as a goal for its members;
- THEN (back to number 1 above) seniority may be instituted based on the number of terms served.
Note that numbers 1 and 8 in this logical chain represent a reinforcing cycle. IF re-election is a goal for all the members of a body of officeholders, THEN they will tend to institute policies and procedures that make re-election more possible and more desirable if the officeholders “work the system” correctly. This, in turn, will reinforce the desire and willingness of the officeholder to justify doing whatever is necessary to reach the goal of being re-elected.
The Republican Party has virtually no control over a couple factors in this logic. Those factors would be the following:
- Individuals tend to act in their own best interest
- Officeholders are often strongly attracted by the prestige, excitement, and power of the offices to which they are elected
However, two other root factors in this chain of reasoning could be addressed using political mechanisms. Those two factors would be:
- The officeholders’ salaries and perks are a strong attractant
- Legislative bodies tend to institute policies and procedures that support and encourage a drive to re-election
This short list constitutes two of the things that need to change if we are going to have a long-lasting and effective impact on the nature of politics in the United States. (We will discuss some others a bit later.)
Officeholders’ salaries and perks constitute are a strong attractant
Think what might happen if a principled party – like the Republicans, if they are willing to take up the gauntlet on this matter – would actually fight to reduce the perquisites (perks) associated with becoming an officeholder. This especially makes sense at the federal level. Consider the following reported by the National Taxpayers Union:
“With service of 20-25 years, a Member of Congress could retire with up to 80 percent of his or her final salary replaced. Of course, the only cap on how fast their benefits rise is the rate of increase in CPI. For this reason, Congressional pensions can and frequently do exceed a Member’s final salary, but only after a few years in retirement, when COLAs begin to kick in. For example, a Member of Congress who could collect $5 million or more, if he or she retires in his/her fifties, lives until his/her eighties, and elects to leave a part of the pension benefit to a spouse, who then live 10 or more years longer. This could include George Mitchell, especially after his post-Congressional government service. With Cost of Living Adjustments, total payments over a lifetime can reach these levels (though the more typical payout is likely to be between $1 million and $2 million).
“In the final analysis, Congressional pension benefits are 2-3 times more generous than what a similarly-salaried executive could expect to receive upon retiring from the private sector.”
Policies and procedures instituted in legislative bodies tend to support and encourage a drive toward re-election
Similarly, a principled party – like the Republicans, if they have the guts – could take a principled approach to this issue. One of the key elements in the existing policies and procedures that encourage an almost insatiable drive for re-election relates to seniority and committee leadership opportunities. This could be held in check through the institution of term limits. If no one in Congress or the Senate could accumulate more than two or three terms, the disparity in the “seniority” metric between the so-called “senior members” and “freshmen” would not be so great as it is today.
While this would lower the overall “skill” level in our legislatures, it would have the offsetting – and likely overwhelming – benefit of also reducing the politicians’ skill in manipulating the “system” for illicit gain. It would also reduce the number of years during which special interest groups could accumulate advantage and influence over any given legislator before he or she would be replaced, at which time the special interest group must start all over again.
Furthermore, establishing term limits would make every legislator much more sensitive to the realities faced by his or her constituents. It would greatly reduce the number of members of Congress and the U.S. Senate that simply settle down in that federal city and forget both good government and true benefits of liberty for their constituents.
Educating the officeholders, the candidates and the voters
Next, consider this chain of logic:
- IF people often do not fully understand Constitutional principles and/or the principles of free market economics;
- THEN 1) candidates and officeholders may not comprehend the damage their actions may inflict upon the Constitution, the economy, or both; and 2) individuals (voters) often do not clearly understand what political actions will actually be in their best interests in the long run.
- IF voters often vote for politicians who deliver special favors for groups or individuals
AND individuals want to receive maximum benefits from government at minimum cost
AND individuals often do not understand what actions will actually be in their best interests in the long run
AND candidates and officeholders may not comprehend the damage their actions may do to the Constitution or the economy or both
AND the primary goal of each typical officeholder is re-election;
- THEN candidates and officeholders are willing to offer special favors to groups and individuals.
- IF candidates and officeholders are willing to offer special favors to groups and individuals;
- THEN candidates and officeholders are often willing to sacrifice sound government (the Constitution) and a sound economy for improved chances of being re-elected.
The manifest outcomes of this chain of logic are these:
- Officeholders often spend considerable amounts of time and money (via staff) on “casework” (i.e., favors for individuals and groups)
- Officeholders often support “pork-barrel” political activity
- Officeholders often support legislation leading to “entitlements” or growth in government bureaucracies or both
- Officeholders often support legislation that represents movement away from sound Constitutional government
- Therefore, the cost of government rises and Constitutional government is degraded
Note that at the “root” of this chain of reasoning is this simple and singular fact: people often do not fully understand Constitutional and/or free market economic principles. This, then, constitutes the third important thing that needs to change.
What should a principled political party – a party with the best interests of these United States at its heart and soul – do in light of these facts? Does it not appear obvious?
If, as is the case, neither the voters, nor the candidate, nor many of the present officeholders understand principles underlying our U.S. Constitution and the properly limited role of the federal government, then responsibility rests upon a principled political party to undertake efforts to instruct its present officeholders, its candidates, and the voting public in these matters. The instruction should take place in the order listed with the utmost urgency placed upon getting current officeholders fully educated on these matters as soon as possible.
Likewise, if the same lack of understanding, in this case, regarding free market economics (free market capitalism) pervades the great bulk of voters, candidates and officeholders, then a conscientious and principled political party should embark upon a program to educate its present officeholders, its candidates for office, and the citizen voters regarding these critical principles. Not to take such steps is to surrender the future of United States to ongoing degradation until it finally collapses entirely and our ingenious and precious form of government perishes from the earth.
Meanwhile, as the Republican Party – which is best positioned to take up this great task – tarries in indecision or unwillingness or cowardice, the tax burden upon the citizens will continue to rise with little or no control, individual liberties will continue to be abrogated, and the economy will be increasingly damaged by foolish acts undertaken by our civil governments.
Mr. Steele, if you are committed to your “Blueprint for Tomorrow”; if you are truly dedicated to standing “proudly for… timeless principles” and to “painting a compelling vision for America’s future,” then now is the time to stand up. If you want the Republican Party to be “fully prepared to compete for every vote, in every election, for every office, in every state,” then the approaches discussed in this letter are the right methods to garner for the Republican Party the largest opportunity for success. We can no longer continue to engage the Democrats in the contest for the minds and hearts of Americans while allowing the Democrats to define the battleground and the modes of combat.
Stand up, Mr. Steele, and encourage all Republican officeholders and candidates to stand up with you.
Thank you for listening once again.
Very sincerely yours,
Richard D. Cushing