A Common Sense Prescription for Washington

Dec 26, 2012 | Updated Feb 25, 2013

As we collectively prepare to fall off the fiscal cliff, it should be apparent to all that the amount of dysfunction and skewed priorities among our elected officials in Washington is so grotesque that it is clear they have forgotten who sent them there and what their job is. They are so busy jockeying for position and pandering to their political constituencies that they appear to have lost all sense of reason.

The maladies now endemic to politics and politicians in Washington call for radical change if they are to be conquered. They stem from a political system that requires elected officials to spend more time getting reelected than on governing, and in the process catering to routine influence peddling -- what is in essence legalized corruption. The reason this state of affairs thrives is because there is too much money sloshing around inside the Beltway, too few restrictions on how money is 'awarded' to politicians, and too much apathy among voters to demand more from their elected representatives to encourage the fundamental change needed to turn things around.

In the absence of any kind of meaningful restraint and discipline among our elected officials, I would like to propose a simple, common sense prescription for change in the way our political system operates:

1. Get rid of the Electoral College -- a relic from a bygone era (first adopted in 1787), and elect presidents of the United States based solely on the popular vote. The Electoral College discourages voter turnout in smaller states because they matter less, skews the relative importance of minority groups (particularly in larger states), and is neither truly democratic nor fair, since a candidate can win based solely on his/her ability to woo voters in swing states.

2. Restrict all national elective offices to a single term. Doing so would remove the need to spend a single moment of a representative's time raising money for reelection (which many do from their first day in office) and would greatly dilute the power of influence peddlers in Washington. The president and all senators would serve a single six-year term. House members would serve a single four-year term. That should focus them on the task at hand.

3. Abolish the lobbyists' revolving door. A 2005 report from Public Citizen analyzed hundreds of lobbyist registration documents filed in compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act and the Foreign Agents Registration Act (among other sources) and found that between 1998 and 2005, 43 percent of the 198 members of Congress who left government registered to become lobbyists. The American voter should demand that no nationally elected government official may ever lobby Congress.

Of course, there are a host of other things that could be done to attempt to clean Washington up, but doing these three things would be a big step in the right direction. What would be required in order to do so is a combination of honesty and courage among elected officials, but equally importantly, a demand for common decency and common sense from the American voting public. It is questionable whether this can be done when so many people take so little interest in the political process (with little more than half of eligible adults bothering to vote in national elections, and the percentage of people exercising their right to vote declining steadily since the 1960s). But if we don't demand more of our 'representatives', in the end, we have only ourselves to blame.

Our Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves, seeing what the political system they created has turned into -- a cesspool of influence peddling and self-serving partisanship. What we have now is not what they envisioned, nor the "government of the people, by the people, and for the people" that President Lincoln called for in the Gettysburg Address. With the stakes as high as they are, you would think that some common sense would prevail in Washington. Sadly, it has not.