June 21, 2010
There's recently been some chatter in the blogosphere debating the need for a new amendment to the Constitution - one that would require laws passed by Congress to apply to lawmakers equally as they apply to the rest of American citizens. The feasibility of such a measure is questionable, and currently there is no such amendment being proposed in Congress; nevertheless, the enthusiasm behind the idea reveals a growing sentiment among many Americans that the federal government no longer represents the people, but rather presides in Washington as a group of self-interested elites that long ago lost touch with reality.
President Obama's administration has been tainted with the stain of hypocrisy from Day One, when news broke that he'd chosen to send his daughters to the elite private Sidwell Friends School while simultaneously allowing his Democratic cohorts in Congress - at the behest of the powerful National Education Association, no doubt - to kill a scholarship program that afforded 1,700 of D.C.'s most underprivileged kids to escape the District's failing public school system. Apparently the President, along with 38% of Congressmen who elect to send their kids to private schools, sees nothing ironic about denying American parents the right to choose the best school for their kids.
After the meltdown on Wall Street, our government wasted no time in demonizing the corporate "fat cats" at the top. President Obama assured the American people that the party was over - that the firms that received bailout funds would be made to pay back every dime of taxpayer money, and then some, in the form of a special tax. Many firms that never even received TARP funds were made subject to the new tax, yet interestingly enough, government-run firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with GM and Chrysler (which hadn't paid back their portion of TARP), were exempted from the tax. Clearly, our government felt no compunction about excluding itself from accountability for its sizable role in the financial collapse and subsequent recession, and they certainly feel no obligation to pay the American people back for the billions spent to bail themselves out.
Perhaps the best example of the gross disparity between Washington's ruling elites and the rest of the American people can be seen in two of our nation's most contentious political issues: health care and climate change.
Senate Democrats were elated after they successfully bulldozed health care "reform" through Congress, claiming victory on behalf of millions of uninsured and "underinsured" Americans. No longer, they crowed, would greedy insurance companies be able to exclude the needy and gouge hardworking families. Those that had coverage they liked could keep it, and those without coverage now had access to much needed care. Upon closer analysis, however, it has been revealed that - despite the President's assurances to the contrary - a majority of Americans won't be able to keep their current coverage: Up to 51% of employees will be forced to change plans under the new law. Also notable is the fact that the very Democrats that wrote the health care bill exempted themselves and most of their staffers from the requirements of the legislation. Unlike the rest of us, they (along with the President and his family, of course) will get to keep their taxpayer-funded Cadillac insurance plans.
On the issue of climate change, we are told that America is facing an energy crisis - that we must take steps today to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels or else face dire consequences. Naturally, the only way to achieve security from this impending disaster is to cede authority over energy consumption to the government. Nevermind the fact that the same politicians who want to control how the American people consume energy are some of the biggest culprits (second only, perhaps, to Hollywood stars) when it comes to carbon pollution. It's the ultimate in "do as we say, not as we do" condescension.
Former Vice President Al Gore is an infamous example of this self-imposed double standard. An ardent supporter of cap-and-trade, his household consumes more than 20 times as much energy as the average American household. Despite this glaring hypocrisy, he was granted an Academy Award for his documentary lecturing Americans and the world about the evils of carbon. He insists that Americans must make big sacrifices in order to save the planet. So how does he justify his own prodigious energy bill? Like many Hollywood elites, he buys "carbon credits" to offset his sizable carbon footprint. In other words, he pays an "energy broker" to ensure that carbon consumption elsewhere (exactly where, no one is sure) is reduced so he doesn't have to curtail his limousine liberal lifestyle.
And who can forget the late Ted Kennedy's opposition to the Cape Wind Project, a plan that would have erected several wind power turbines in Nantucket Sound in order to power most of Cape Cod and surrounding communities? Apparently the turbines would have interfered with a favorite yachting route of the Kennedy family, so the venerable Lion got the project scrapped. Apparently for Washington elites there are some things more important than saving Planet Earth.
There is a reason that the Founding Fathers worried over the issue of term limits: They realized the danger of allowing a tyranny of professional politicians to rule the affairs of the nation. Two centuries later, the worst fears of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have been realized. Washington, D.C. is no longer a place where humble men with noble hearts go to serve their fellow citizens; Capitol Hill has become a glorified country club; it represents elitism personified. Our representatives truly live by a different set of rules than the rest of the American people, and they use the power of their office - the power bestowed upon them by your vote - to ensure that they remain exempt from the standards that guide the rest of us. This is why they are so willing to spend trillions of dollars they don't have on legislation that won't apply to them. This is why they think nothing of spending $18,000 a month on office space, or burning 40,000 tons of carbon en route to a summit on climate change.
What the voters must realize is that we don't need a Constitutional amendment to make our representatives change the way they do business. All we need to do is show up on election day and change who we send there.
Ken Connor is an attorney and co-author of "Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty." He is also Chairman of the Center for a Just Society.