Change? Not Anytime Soon

It is becoming commonplace for individuals campaigning for political office to tout “change” as the name of their game. It is nearly unheard of for a politician to campaign on the basis that he or she will give the people more of what we have already have. Perhaps this says something about us; Americans are never satisfied. Or, perhaps this says something about politicians themselves, spending years in office and running for re-election on the basis of changing the status quo.

If our politics and politicians were continually improving, the idea of positive change would be wonderful. That is, after all, the whole point of having democratic elections – if we are dissatisfied with the results a particular representative is getting, let someone else have a try.
Yet, our nation’s government was created with specific safeguards to make sudden changes difficult. The checks and balances in place serve to prevent one political representative from making significant changes on his or her own, the idea being that this would prevent an individual from somehow gaining monarchial power in America.

Unfortunately for us, the average age of Congressmen today is five to 10 years older than the average age 50 years ago. Our Congress is among the oldest in history. With Congressmen allowed to hold unlimited terms in office, unlike the Presidency, many choose to become career politicians.
As the average salary of Congressmen in 2010 is $174,000, there is little wonder why politicians attempt to stay in office as long as possible. In addition, Congressmen receive health and retirement benefits, funded by our tax dollars. It is becoming increasingly difficult to think of politicians as political servants or representatives of the people. With their increasing age and large salaries, politicians have become an elite group of Americans, separated from the common man or woman.

There are benefits to having career politicians. Those who have spent many decades in office know the ins and outs of Washington and the political game and therefore are likely to be more effective at instituting change. They have the opportunity to garner the respect of their colleagues, a necessity for anyone hoping to persuade others to follow their ideas.
Sadly, these possible benefits of having career politicians are rarely capitalized. Take a look at some political campaigns – the focus is often upon the negative aspects of other candidates and not the achievements of the individual running for office. Is this because smear campaigns are immensely effective, or is it because politicians are unable to accomplish much that could be considered praiseworthy?

What are we Americans to do with such a situation? The options are quite limited. Either we stick with the same career politicians we know and so frequently loathe, or we elect someone new, someone unpredictable, inexperienced and unknown.

In theory, the idea of electing young blood into office sounds wonderful. Maybe individuals who are young, energetic and more able to relate to the Americans of today will be able to bring about some tangible change in our government. In practice, this is impossible. Congress is an institution with hundreds of individuals practicing partisan politics. The chance that a few new individuals could bring about change are slim to none.

Surely, if we were able to toss all the current politicians out onto the street and fill the Senate with 100 new young men and women, and the House with 435 new members (excluding the six non-voting members), we might see some changes. Yet again, we encounter a serious problem. Whatever change does come, it is guaranteed to upset many Americans. No desire is unanimous in this nation.

A democracy is no simple task. When we the people want change and the government is slow to respond, we feel that our sense of democracy is endangered. Yet, if one new individual elected to Congress were able to make sudden changes, our democracy would no longer be a democracy.
The long and short of my argument is that whether politicians are young or old, in office for 20 years or 20 days, their ability to affect change is inhibited by much more than individual desires. Yes, it is likely that many of our Congressmen prevent changes for personal benefit and economic gain. It is, however, just as likely that this is not the only factor.

Electing young blood into office won’t bring about change. Electing President Obama into office has proved that even if some changes are clearly desired by the American people, politicians’ hands are often tied by more than just oneself. The closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq are just two things that the President of the United States, supposedly the most powerful elected official in the world, has made clear that he wants but has yet to accomplish.

Whether young or old, our representatives are subservient to the long and arduous game that we call politics. It is a marked departure from the idea that representatives be subservient to the people. With the Washington bureaucracy having grown so large, it is undeniable that in many cases we are subservient to it.


Alexander Gura is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reach at agura@uci.edu.