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Tim Blagg

Antithesis of statesmanship

Personal gain the rule now in Congress

To me, the most striking thing about the current mess in Washington is not that the two sides can’t agree on a tax/cuts package that would avoid the so-called Fiscal Cliff.

It’s that nearly all of the participants are working for their own selfish goals, not for our welfare.

Think about it.

The motivation behind the endless speeches and sound bites and so forth is not based on what’s good for the country but on what is most likely to get them re-elected ... and to help members of their party be re-elected.

It’s the antithesis of statesmanship.

Sadly, over the past decades, there are fewer and fewer members of Congress who can be counted on to rise above partisanship and vote with an eye on the nation’s future benefit.

Why is that?

Money, plain and simple.

The combination of two-year terms for the House of Representatives, originally set at that period to allow prominent citizens from the states to journey to Washington for a term or two before settling down to local careers, and the skyrocketing cost of campaigning, due to the price of TV advertising, has resulted in 435 members who can only think about their next election. They literally begin campaigning as they’re settling in to their new Washington apartments and they never stop.

As a result, they are dedicated to bringing home the “pork” to their districts, and have absolutely no motive to cut federal spending, no matter what their speeches say.

And, since it’s the fringe elements of their party, as well as well-heeled lobbyists, who can be relied on to provide campaign financing, they must produce for them or risk being defeated.

So fringe ideology and public positioning rule in negotiations like we’ve been seeing over the past few months, not long-range planning for the good of the country.

What can be done?

As I’ve written before, I think there are two changes that could be made that might change the complexion of the Congress and perhaps, just perhaps, change things for the better.

They both require amendments to the Constitution, so the chances of them actually being done are slight.

One is to impose term limits on Congress. We have them in the states, and we have them for the job of president, but the Supreme Court, in its infinite wisdom, has ruled that they’re unconstitutional for Congress. Term limits, coupled with stiff rules on shuttling back and forth between Congress and the ranks of lobbyists, could force a constant changeover of characters and reduce the perennial need for campaign money.

The second would be to end this nonsense about corporations being “people” able to throw huge amounts of cash into election campaigns. There is a grass-roots campaign under way on this second matter, and I hope it continues and gains strength.

I don’t think these two measures will totally solve our Washington problems, but it only takes a few minutes reading the news to know that something needs to be done, and quickly, for the good of the country.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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