Wednesday, August 26, 2009

46 Years: Too Long

Ted Kennedy was a U.S. senator for 46 years. Only two senators have exceeded that mark: Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd. Byrd holds the record, at 50 years and counting.

I hold the old-fashioned view that service in public office should not constitute a career. It should instead be a temporary sacrifice that one makes in the middle of a career in the real world.

That's not a partisan dig at Kennedy and Byrd. Thurmond, Bob Dole, Ted Stevens and Thad Cochran, have been, or were, in the Senate too long. Also Arlen Specter (and you certainly can't call that partisan criticism!)

The arguments for my point of view can, I believe, best be summarized as follows. Senators live in a bubble. The longer they stay in that bubble, the further they're removed from a feel for life the way the rest of us live it.

My favorite example is the privacy-policy insert that financial institutions periodically send to their customers. What a waste of paper and postal resources! I would be surprised if as many as 1/100th of 1% of all recipients of such notices actually read them.

I believe (commenters can correct me if I'm wrong) that those notices were mandated by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the act of Congress that allowed corporations such as Citigroup to own different kinds of financial institutions.

The privacy-policy requirement seems like the perfect example of something that sounded worthwhile in the echo chamber in which senators debate, but which in reality makes no sense.

One counterargument is that constituents should be able to elect whomever they want, subject to the requirements regarding age, citizenship, etc. (I certainly don't want to put the birthers out of business.) :-)

The problem with that is that lobbyists and other interested parties contribute money to those in power, perhaps expecting something in return. That contributes to entrenching incumbents in office, and hindering the sort of turnover that I'm arguing is helpful in order to introduce more common sense.

And, by the way, all of these arguments apply to the House of Representatives, as well. The current Dean of the House, John Dingell, has been in that body longer than I've been alive. And I'm not all that young anymore.

My proposal is a 12-year limit on congressional service, with no pension.

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