By Stacey Roberts
Being in Congress is like living on another planet.
With a quick “Aye” you can spend trillions of dollars, declare war, and affect millions of lives. You probably haven’t even read the bills you voted into law.
You put your name on emails to your constituents saying that the left wants to turn America into a Socialist hellscape like Venezuela or the right wants to turn America into a dystopian hellscape like the Handmaid’s Tale. The left is in China’s pocket. The right is in Russia’s.
If the president is the leader of your party you give him your full-throated support even when you think he’s wrong. If he belongs to the other party, he gets your constant and uncompromising opposition even if you think he’s right.
You go on TV with a scripted set of partisan talking points that make you sound unhinged, but you’re getting airtime and the party is putting desperately-needed election dollars in your campaign coffers, so you do it and keep doing it. Sounding like you mean what you say is key, so you start to believe your own lies.
You’re going to join in on the investigations into the Democratic political crime family that used their influence to get billions from Ukraine and China. You’re going to ride along on the investigations into the Republican crime family that used their political influence to get billions from Saudi Arabia and Russia.
You’re going to sponsor a bill impeaching someone because that’s just how things are these days.
You have to act surprised to learn that the Treasury is running out of money even though you voted to spend it all and then dig in your heels on that debt ceiling vote because budget brinkmanship and government shutdowns are just how things are these days.
You might know that some tax cuts help the economy and some government spending in the right place at the right time gives the nation a boost, but you look to the party leadership to tell you if those things are true or not.
You might know that not all mass shootings are exactly the same and neither are all abortions, but your partisan handlers and their donors tell you they are, so they are.
Over the years and decades, you do as you’re told.
You spend every day in fear – fear of being irrelevant or not making the news. Fear of being challenged in a primary by someone who is even more of a rabid partisan than you are. Fear of losing a plum committee assignment because you voted for the other side’s inconsequential bill or didn’t attack the opposition party with enough rancor.
Fear of losing your seat.
Your staff sifts through letters and emails from your constituents about how much health insurance costs even while it doesn’t pay their medical bills but it’s been so long since you’ve had to write a doctor a check that you ignore them.
You hear about rising grocery bills but you don’t know what a gallon of milk costs. Gas prices are up, but someone drives you to work every day. You get travel allowances and staff allowances and a six-figure salary and free healthcare so you’re not sure what all the fuss is about. Few Americans have adequate retirement savings but you’ve got a guaranteed pension. The national debt sounds like a number concocted by a madman but you’ll be retired or dead when that bill comes due, so it’s not your problem.
A flood wipes out a town in your district, so you get to go visit for the first time since your first campaign. A hurricane takes out a city in a state dominated by the other party, so you make the rounds criticizing their government, their policies, and the entire partisan agenda of the other side. You shake your head in mock sadness for the tragedy of incompetent administration while not wasting too much air on the dead and the ruined. Your party is fundraising like crazy off your soundbites, so you might be safe come campaign season.
Your entire life is dominated by money: billions in appropriations, millions in pork projects, thousands in campaign contributions. You have to go where the smaller amounts are—the party and the donors—but the big money you yes-vote out of America’s anemic Treasury keeps rolling in with every American’s paycheck, so you spend it like you didn’t earn it on policies some unelected power broker told you to vote for.
We don’t need to term-limit Congress because they’re old. We need to send them back home before they’ve completely lost touch with the reality most of us have to live with every day. We need them to not care if they don’t get a spot on a news show or clips of them don’t go viral on social media or they don’t get to play golf with the President or the Speaker of the House. We need them to look at the issues facing the country the same way we do.
A representative’s best terms of office are their first, when they’re optimistic and idealistic and looking forward to doing some good, and their last, when they don’t care what the party thinks and no longer need campaign donations to win. These limits will give us more high-value Congressional terms. It will break the shackles of money and partisanship they willingly wear. We can’t be sure how our representatives would vote if they didn’t have to worry about lobbyists or party leaders, but this is one way to find out.
We need them to stop living in fear and vote in the interest of their citizens and the nation.
A forty-year-old Congressman can do as much damage to the country as an eighty-year-old Senator. It’s what happens when you live in the partisan, money-fueled bubble of modern politics.
It’s not an age thing. It never was.
The country simply deserves better.
Stacey Roberts is the author of “No One Left But All Of Us” and the founder and executive director of the Valley Forge Project. He can be reached at email@example.com.