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The Deconstruction of a Patrician Institution


Tyler Aybara

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There is no doubt that the United States' form of government was, by the design of the founding fathers, based off of the greatest civilization in antiquity, Rome. It was upon Rome's ancient and powerful frame that the America we know today was copied and forged, a testament to a time when men governed themselves and, in the process, managed to create the greatest political entity known to man. Flourishing in military might, technological advances, philosophy, and, in many cases, acceptance of different political views, ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, and artistic pursuits while requiring that all citizens be devoted to the preservation and advancement of the nation which gave them such benefits, Rome was the model that the United States of America was built upon.

 

Who can say that the founding fathers, in their most ambitious of dreams, saw America rise to such prominence of that long forgotten power in Italy? What they saw was the value, and the importance, in constructing the American government with qualified, educated men. In fact it was paramount to the future success of the nation. As such, it comes at little surprise that, much like their patrician counterparts of yore, the founding generation of Americans sought to establish an upper class, the best of the best, that would be needed to guide America during its formative years. While lauding the celebrated democratic values, the men of the Continental Congress realized that a woefully low amount of Americans were educated, learned in dealings of law or business, and a great many could neither read nor write. It was essential, at that time, to make a clear distinction of men who could serve in Congress and, since the number was small, to not limit the amount of time they could serve.

 

In essence, the founding fathers, in America's infancy, sought to create a patrician class. Powerful men from wealthy, land owning, college educated families who could help lead America from obscurity to prominence. It was, at the time, an essential measure to ensure America's survival. Needless to say, the creation of a patrician class, if you will, worked. America did survived, and progressed as worthy statesmen were elected and, in many cases, served lengthy, almost life terms as politicians, much akin to the Roman precedent of a citizen, once elected as a Senator, was considered a Patrician for life, along with his descendents.

 

The trend continued, as America expanded both in acreage and population, education gradually improved, increasing the scope and sample from which American statesmen were elected from. By no means, however, did this eliminate the patrician class system, as many statesmen in both the Senate and the House retained their station for years and many with connections to previous members of Congress were, of course, buoyed by familial connections and their own patriarchs' connections.

 

Much like their Roman counterparts, wealthy businessmen of incredible wealth could also work their way into the upper echelons of the American patrician system. Rightfully so, in a capitalist system, one could prove himself extremely adept at management and fiscal responsibility, hallmarks of a good legislator. In the same vein, a man with tremendous personal fortune could better fund his own campaign and in a quest to win over constituents.

 

It is in this system that we find ourselves today. Where career politicians seek to preserve their own political status unlimited by the laws of our land while creating and seeking to maintain patrician dynasties and where the wealthy seek to establish themselves in the ruling class. It is today that this system proves itself to be truly archaic when faced with this one, simple question;

 

Why are terms in the House and Senate not limited?

 

For now, let us skip the practical issue of placing such limitations on these sacred offices would have to pass through the House and the Senate, which is, in and of itself, an issue. Instead, we should begin our deconstruction of this patrician system in a democratic nation. To start, we should ask ourselves, what advantage does having Congress with no term limit afford us?

 

My answer, as you probably might have guess by now, is nothing. In any debate, it should be the object of the participants, if they seek to be great, to imagine themselves as the opposition. To visualize what points he would attack, what arguments he would make to highlight the weaknesses of his opponent (in this case, oneself). The only true boon I can see from the perpetuity that is offered to our elected officials in the legislative branch is that of stability. Of known quantities representing their constituents. Of steady, guided, experienced hands using years of service to bring forth sagely laws and wisdom befitting their experience.

 

This point, while certainly not lost on me, is what, I believe, to be a great fallacy that is perpetuated and marketed by Congress to ensure that the people, disgruntled as they are, do not demand term limits. Henceforth, allow me to deconstruct the very argument that I just presented.

 

The fact of the matter is that the unlimited tenures of legislatures gives birth to what America should have dispensed with long ago. Career politicians. Men and women who strive to serve as long a term as possible on the tax payers time and dime. To embed themselves in bureaucracy. It creates men and women who are afraid to lose their status as the esteemed delegate from such and such. Men and women who are preoccupied with their own legacy, with their own wallets, with their own ego who seek not to help the American people, as is their sacred duty, but, instead, to imagine themselves a legend amongst law makers. The next Ted Kennedy, the next Strom Thurmond, the next John Adams, the next Daniel Webster.

 

It is in this struggle to maintain, this struggle to win the social honor that becoming a representative of the people of one of the most powerful nations in the world in the highest of offices, that becomes the focus of their world. It is why they struggle so bitterly to hold on to it and so intensely to gain it. It is why they are easy prey for lobbyists, for favors, for corruption. When one's life work is a few percentage points from being taken away is it shocking that one would go to unscrupulous methods to preserve it? For sure not.

 

Now, I by no means am seeking to demean or diminish those law makers who served this nation for years, decades even, in civil service. However, I do mean to diminish that mode in which they served as outdated. To those who say, "What of the luminaries? The men who political craft are so deft, so natural, who are demagogues? Are we to cast them out simply because they have reached some indeterminate time barrier?" To that all I can say is that they replaced a Senator or a Representative. That their talents and mettle were largely unknown. That they did not prove themselves a champion of the people until given a chance to prove it. What if the one who replaces them is just as qualified? Just as successful? Dare I say, even more successful?

 

The fact simply is, America has grown into a nation of thinkers, as much of the world has. A nation of college educated, progressive men and women too numerous to count. That fact alone should signify that the deed of politicking should not be a career choice. It should be an honor, a privilege, and a sacrifice with a time stamp. It should be no man's aspiration to be a Senator for 40 years. It should be his aspiration to serve his country.

 

Think of it. Think of a nation of Senators. Now, obviously, I realize I am grossly exaggerating, but, nonetheless, is it not a powerful thought? That the scope of those exposed to the experience of being a member of the highest legislative body in the land could be increased two fold, three fold, four fold? Imagine where, with so many new Senators and Senators only being able to serve a short term, that it wasn't profitable for lobbyists fund campaigns for favors? Where an American official, instead of looking to push and agenda that they hope to stand behind and force through for 20 or 30 years instead focused on getting results and compromising in the short time they are given?

 

What of the fiscal relief of not having to pay pensions? It is of my opinion that the members of Congress should not be paid more than the mean salary of American citizens. That they should look on their time as a civil servant as just that, a servant to the civilian government. Not some lofty lord who demands to be called Senator and looks for favors with an open palm. Not only that, the pool from which to draw a President from would expand considerably, were the maximum time of Senate experience is 12 years, you wouldn't have that demagogue who has been in the Senate for 50 years thumping his chest and declaring his experience. Candidates would be judged on the time they had, that limited, precious time in which the American people trusted you. Not that you sat in a chamber for thirty years because you pandered the most successfully.

 

Psychologically, does it not also make sense? If one's ambition is to, someday, become President, wouldn't a shorter, definite term as a Senator or Representative make you work harder, to accomplish as much as you could to put on your resume when you stood to be judged for the highest office in the land?

 

What of our broken system now? Where some members of Congress have been, for DECADES, on the opposite sides of the aisle screaming at each other? Is it a wonder that party dogma and stereotypes are so engrained when the people who represent the parties have been there for years? No one person is the stereotypical Democrat or Republican, a steady stream of new representatives means new ideas, new perspectives, new experiences, all things needed to continue to progress. New alliances created and new adversaries found but it would be NEW. Refreshing, other than the seemingly stagnant pool that Congress has now become.

 

With term limitations you would see new and different classes of people standing for elections more frequently. There are only so many multi-millionaires out there with agendas. You would see middle-class candidates with more frequency than you do now. Now, where fiscal giants can fund their campaigns ten times over to ensure they win with littler or no trepidation.

 

The fact that senile men, who can barely walk and talk, get re-elected simply because they have been re-elected for decades before should be enough of a clue that the system must go. I don't fault their patriotic hearts, but they minds left them long before and these are the leaders, the men who are suppose to debate, create, and compromise. Hard to do so when you cannot make it to Congress because of health issues and you are, sad as it is to say, simply an ornament, a symbol, a shade of your former formidable political self.

 

It could not be clearer to me the steps in which America must make to get out of this rut, this abominable stalemate it is in. The population is educated, is curious, is experienced and is frustrated. It does not need guardians like it did at America's founding. It does not need a landed, prestigious gentry deemed worthy to govern indefinitely over this great nation. It needs a revolution, a revolution of policy, a revolution of awareness and forward thinking.

 

Thomas Jefferson once said "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots...". Now while he was referring to this in a much more martial, military sense, I offer you to take a different look on it. That the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of new patriots, of new ideas, of new men and women who will serve their nation not under the presumption of a celebrated and lengthy stay at a distinguished civilian office, but under the gun of a short term and the challenge to make the most of it.

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