The Fire ‘Em All Approach to Voting is Just Silly

Many good, honest conservatives want to fire all of Congress. One of the latest efforts is a website called (as in Believe me, I understand the feeling. Congress has miserably failed to satisfy the voters. They’ve been arrogant, they’ve spent more time accumulating personal wealth than legislating, they’ve casually ignored the entirety of the Constitution, they’ve lied, stolen and become so filled with hubris that even when they stand silent people assume they are lying. Yes, I get it when people say that we should “fire ’em all.” But unfortunately the righteousness of the populist anger doesn’t make the sentiment the right prescription to cure what ails our nation.

Let’s be clear here, this contemporary disgust with Congress is in no way unusual. The fact of the matter is that you can go back to any time in our nation’s history and find that the same anti-Congressional sentiment abounded. The assumption that the current sad state of affairs in Congress is completely new is simply an ahistorical, ill-informed concept.

In 1873, for instance, that great American humorist Mark Twain wrote, “I never can think of Judas Iscariot without losing my temper. To my mind Judas Iscariot was nothing but a low, mean, premature, Congressman.” Not to be out done, the next generation’s favorite funny man, Will Rogers, tap danced on Congress and politicians with aplomb and regularity. In the 1920s Rogers quipped, “With Congress, every time they make a joke it’s a law, and every time they make a law it’s a joke.” These are but a smidgeon of the many times these two famous American every-men landed on Congress with both feet but Twain and Rogers’ disgust with Congress was not in any way exceptional. It’s been common in every American era.

At some level, however, the anger isn’t sufficient reason to “fire ’em all.”

Don’t get me wrong, I too believe that Congress is in far worse shape today than it’s ever been. Then again, the whole country is and it isn’t just because of our politics. After all, let’s not forget that politics reflects the people — we get the government we deserve, as the saying goes.

Sadly, the reason things have deteriorated so is because of our horrid educational system. It isn’t that our politicians are necessarily more venal than any politician of the past, it’s that they are more stupid. The problem is, we are graduating people from our schools that know nothing whatever about the Constitution, our political system, or our history, and, even worse, they don’t think it all matters. These folks then go on to Congress without any moral training, no civic training and no sense of America (can you say Al Franken?). And those that don’t angle for Congress angle for the voting booth with the same ill-informed mien. And we wonder why the country has lost its way and why we are so ill served?

But what does this lack of education mean? It means that if we fire all of Congress today we might just find that we’ll be replacing them with the very same types because the good ones these days are so far and few between. Before we start firing politicians we need to fire our mis-educators who are so busily pumping out political and civic idiots year in and year out.

There is a problem tangential to a lack of education about our system, too. Some say that Washington is today worse on the rest of us, far more dangerous than ever and in that I agree. But why is that? Is it because our politicians are somehow more evil? Not really. It’s because they have more power than ever and more government power means more opportunity to screw it all up. This is why the founders wanted the central government to be small but through ignorance of our system that reaches all the way back to the socialist FDR we’ve allowed Congress to take on far more than it is legally allowed.

Will merely firing them all fix that? Unfortunately it won’t.

There is yet another reason why firing them all won’t help. Often our politicians don’t run Congress, their staffers do. Voting a politician out of office rarely rids government of the staffers who stay from one Congressman to the next. In rare occasions these staffer stay regardless of the party affiliation of office holders one to the next, or they just migrate to the next pol from the party of their choice.

Look at this healthcare bill, for instance. Not a single Senator has ever seen it. Staffers have written the whole thing. These are professional staffers, people that fashion their lives as denizens of Washington. These staffers come to Washington to work for a Senator or Representative, get traded to another Senator or Representative, only to end up as a lobbyist making deals with those same politicians and they stay for decades. They are incestuous and dangerous because they are not accountable to voters in any way yet they often hold more power then the politician they are supposed to be serving. It is the staffers we should be targeting for a good firing as much as the Congressmen they serve… and serve, and serve. The culture of corruption in Congress does not start and end with the politicians. The truth is Washington has a staff infection.

Then there are the union members that run the day-to-day operations of our government, local, state and federal. These people are also unaccountable to voters. Often they are unaccountable to our politicians, as well. Without eliminating public employees unions, even good politicians cannot affect the sort of changes that they are sent to Washington to affect.

We have this tendency of focusing on the elected official because it is his face we see on election day. But that official is standing in front of an entrenched culture of corruption one in which even they, the politicians, cannot put a dent.

This all means, of course, that firing the Congressmen will not clean up the problem because all those staffers and union thugs will remain patiently waiting the arrival of the next politician to whom they will sternly explain how Washington “really works.”

But there is a greater philosophical point that we also need to ponder, one that must lead us to reject this simple-minded “throw ’em all out” sentiment.

The point can well be summed up by a quote from Jules Henri Poincaré: “To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.”

In other words, for the voter to vote for all incumbents or to vote against all incumbents dispenses with those voters having to think too much about the folks they are voting for or against.

Now, we are all aware of Ben Franklin’s famous quote supposedly delivered to a woman that asked what the Founders had wrought after they created the U.S. Constitution. Franklin is thought to have said that they’d given us a Republic “if you can keep it.” That’s the key, if we can keep it. You see, folks (as if you didn’t know this) in our democratic republic it is incumbent upon us to know who we are electing. It is incumbent on us to learn about the issues, sort through the facts, and apply that knowledge to the candidates that are running to serve us. Simple-mindedly throwing them all out will not help us if we are merely replacing them with the next set of ne’er-do-wells that will end up being no different than the previous set of scoundrels.

Remember, folks, we the people put those scoundrels in Congress in the first place. They may all seem like vegetables — and rotten ones at that — but they didn’t grow out of the earth as fully formed congressmen! We did it. We are part of the problem.

Then there is that claim that the founders wanted politicians to go to Congress, serve for a few years, then go back to their private lives with their service to the country well delivered. It is a nice sentiment but I’d say it’s a bit hard to take that sentiment as axiomatic.

Let’s put it this way, one of the first politicians widely claimed to be one of America’s first “professional politicians” is none other than James Monroe, fifth president and himself one of our founders. Not only that but nearly every founder fought as hard as they could to be continually returned to office, few retiring graciously. Virginia’s George Mason was one of the few who did retire earlier than he had too and even he kept his fingers in politics for the rest of his life even as he didn’t hold higher office after his heyday.

In any case, yes it feels good to angrily say that you’d like to vote them all out of office regardless of party, tenure, or acts. It is cathartic to vent like that. But it isn’t responsible. This is the same reason that term limits are not a good idea. I mean, why set up a system where good people could be summarily eliminated no matter how well they do at their jobs? What does that say to the fellow doing his job? But that is another discussion.

In the end, voting them all out my feel good to say but it just doesn’t make logical sense. So I, for one, have to say no to and any other such effort. Arm yourself with an informed vote, people, not the spurious piquancy of “vote ‘em all out.”

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