10.01.2008 0

A Sheer Symbol of “Utter Nonsense”

  • On: 10/21/2008 19:29:04
  • In: Barack Obama
  • Hold the presses! Wonder of wonders. The president of a public policy group has just had the unmitigated gall to call out tire king, media darling, and presidential heir apparent Barack Obama.

    It seems that Mr. Obama may have overstepped himself a trifle while ruminating about term limits on members of Congress. Said the self-anointed “symbol” of mankind’s hopes, “Nobody is term-limiting the lobbyists or the slick operators walking around the halls of Congress. I believe in one form of term limits. They’re called elections.”

    Responded U.S.Term Limits president Philip Blumel, “That’s utter nonsense.” And he didn’t stop there.

    “As is the case on so many issues about which he has made similar ill-informed pronouncements, Mr. Obama needs to do his homework before he portrays himself as an authority,” Mr. Blumel charged. And he was only warming up.

    “In the first place,” the term limits top gun continued, “Lobbyists are nothing more than supplicants. That’s why they’re stuck in the lobby, while Mr. Obama and his cronies own the building. For him to make believe that he doesn’t know the difference between favor seekers and power brokers is insincere — and insulting. As to ‘slick operators walking around the halls of Congress,’ Mr. Obama needs to look in the dictionary under ‘career politicians.’ Or in the mirror.”

    Mr. Blumel knows a little something about career politicians, as well as about the need for term limits as the only means left to send them packing. And he doesn’t brook lightly with neophyte politicians who pass themselves off as instant experts.

    “As to elections being the only form of term limits in which he believes,” Blumel observed, “that’s pithy, glib — and thoroughly duplicitous. As an incumbent, Mr. Obama knows full well that members of Congress have now skewed the laws to give themselves a virtual guarantee of a lifetime job. And as the self-appointed symbol of change, he ought to be taking the lead to change that inequity.”

    Blumel pointed to figures showing that in November of 2006, of the 407 members of the U.S. House of Representatives seeking reelection, 383 returned to their oak-paneled offices. That translates into better than a 94 percent reelection rate. In the U.S. Senate, 23 of 29 (79 percent) incumbents returned to Washington.

    And that’s not just by happenstance. According to Blumel, since the 1960s, when members of Congress voted to substantially enlarge their personal staffs—both in Washington and in the states and districts—such staffs have largely become campaign organizations. And it’s true: the Legislative Studies Quarterly has reported that since that time, the advantage of incumbency has increased to roughly 7 to 10 percentage points of the vote.

    Add to that the “frank” (entitling members to annually mail millions of promotional pieces at taxpayer expense under the guise of “constituent services),” taxpayer funded offices in Washington and throughout the country, taxpayer funded transportation nationwide, and instant access to free media coverage – and, well, as the late Sen. Ev Dirksen said, “You take a million dollars here and a million dollars there, and pretty soon, it starts to add up.”

    What it adds up to, of course, is an incumbency advantage that automatically makes the average challenger little more than a foreordained also-ran. And that makes elections little more than after-thoughts. Yet, as Mr. Blumel explained, those taxpayer-funded perquisites of office are just the tip of the financial iceberg.

    “Mr. Obama knows that incumbency inordinately provides sitting members with a vast—virtually insurmountable — monetary advantage over challengers,” Blumel said. “And he should stop trying to fool people into thinking it doesn’t.”

    According to the Federal Election Commission, in 2006, on average, incumbent House members outspent challengers by more than $600,000 owe election. The average incumbent senator swamped his or her challenger by more than $2 million. Clearly, it takes a lot more than the audacity of hope to overcome those kinds of odds.

    So, perhaps Mr. Blumel is right to take such high umbrage at Mr. Obama’s disdainful dismissal of the need for congressional term limits. Despite all of the so-called “reforms” put in place over the past three decades, the overwhelming money machine that rewards incumbency is still skewing the system to the point where it’s making a mockery of democracy. Now, more than ever, career politicians rarely die and never leave.

    And perhaps Mr. Obama is right, too, in his proclamation upon returning from his rock star tour of the world’s great capitals: “I have become a symbol.”

    Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, in the case of term limits, he may have become a symbol of Will Rogers observation, “Everyone’s ignorant, only about different subjects.” And Philip Blumel is not one to let him forget it, suggesting, “Mr. Obama needs to stick to subjects on which he has show real expertise, like rent collecting and designing logos.”

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