Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Permanent and Temporary Government

Ezra Klein's visit to the American Political Science Association conference in DC last week has led to a nifty little article in which academics get some respect for the work they do. Not a lot of time right now, but I want to highlight one particular point in Klein's piece:
In this year of "tea partiers" and political insurgents, we keep hearing the same refrain: The founders envisioned not career politicians but citizen-legislators -- decent folk who'd leave the farm to serve the public, then return home before they became corrupt fat cats. It's this idea that lends term limits such perennial appeal.
And yet, says David Canon, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the author of "Actors, Athletes, and Astronauts: Political Amateurs in the United States Congress," term limits would actually have the opposite effect. He explains: "If you have a bunch of rookies in there who don't have much experience, you're basically turning power over to the permanent government in that town: the staffers and the lobbyists the newcomers end up relying on."
This is an important point, I think. I've lived in DC for over a decade and have witnessed this exact phenomenon. Each administration comes to DC thinking it's different than the preceding administrations. Things are going to be done differently in Washington. I know this is partially just a matter of rhetoric, but it's not bullshit rhetoric. This rhetoric is generally believed by the relative newcomers using it. But then the new administration is chastened fairly quickly by the meat-grinder of the longer-term satellite institutions of national government.

I certainly don't want Tea Partiers leading the country for substantive policy reasons, when actual TP policy proposals even exist. But I also think the above point gives some idea of how a TP presence in the federal government might fare. Consider Pres. Obama's own nearly blind-sided confrontation with the "permanent government," particularly the media.

1 comment:

MT said...

This is why I hate policy.