The critiques of “the 1%” and “The Swamp” aren’t that far apart.
Avowed socialist Senator Bernie Sanders, runner up in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, and Republican President Donald Trump found success in presenting a common message during their presidential runs. That message: the system is rigged. Our government, economy, and society are no longer set up so the middle class can get ahead or to enable the average American to pursue the American dream. It has become a system run by the ruling class to keep themselves and their friends and supporters in the 1% in power. Their mantra: drain the swamp.
To drain the swamp, reform has to start at the top. Washington cannot be reformed by a group of legislators that spend an average of 10 years in D.C. far removed from the realities of daily life in their communities and when, on average there is only roughly 5% turnover in those charged with crafting new and innovative ideas for how to improve the ills of society. If the system is rigged, it’s largely because the system is entrenched and those inside don’t know how, nor do they have the incentive to change it. But our system is in desperate need of change and the American people know it. The successful campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are proof of that visceral knowledge that something at the core of our system needs to change.
Many of the problems with our system are interrelated. Our government is largely composed of a professional political class that seeks to retain power for as long as possible, made possible by a federal system that only limits the terms of service of its chief executive. Despite public approval of congressional job performance hovering somewhere in the high single digits, roughly 95% return to Washington term after term. They are only able to do so with the backing and support of wealthy donors and special interests that can fund the excessively expensive campaigns that have evolved in our hyperpartisan political environment.
To raise the money required for a successful campaign, candidates often have to mold their positions to suit their financing needs. This makes it harder for politicians, once elected, to take tough votes. It means that every position comes with a political calculation. It means that lawmakers are not truly free to take positions consistent with what’s best for the country, because they constantly have to worry about their campaign bottom line. Special interest groups with PACs and super PACs have outsized influence compared to the average citizen that can only legally give a few thousand dollars, while the vast majority give under $100 if they can afford to give anything at all. And what’s even the point in giving $100 or even $2700 when that pales in comparison to the impact that a super PAC can have by spending millions on a tv ad? Money has become the great unequalizer in politics.
This all boils down to the following: allowing federal lawmakers to serve a limitless number of terms leads to the nonstop requirement to raise money. The nonstop requirement to raise money leads to the undue influence of lobbyists, special interests, and the wealthy. The undue influence of the aforementioned means a less democratic system for the American people in which policy is being formed for their benefit and consistent with what’s best for the long term benefit of our nation. To put an end to this virulent cycle, we need congressional term limits, meaningful campaign finance reform, and a re-examination of laws regulating lobbying. In short, we need to drain the swamp.