'Cause I Said So…

Not Sure About That “Deep Bench” Idea

Posted in Bureaucracy, Career Politicians, GOP, Politics, Taxes by kevinsoberg on February 10, 2010

Over the years of following politics and public policy, from Republican ascendency, to fall, to now maybe return, I’ve heard from the political professionals in the New York/ Washington corridor the following refrain: The GOP needs a deeper bench.

I don’t know about that. Oh, I understand the idea. Republicans need more elected officials at the state and local level. There they can build impressive resumes to run against Democrat career politicians when seeking higher and ever higher office. Supposedly, this will give the GOP a “deep bench” (sports metaphor for lots of potential candidates) that can be called on at any given time to seek office.

Sounds good in theory, but I’m skeptical. Not that it’s a bad thing for the GOP to have an extensive list of people willing to seek elected office. My skepticism is of career politicians, regardless of party. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but long-term involvement in government changes a person’s outlook and attitudes. I’ve coined a phrase for this phenomenon: Chronic Government Service Syndrome (CGSS).

In most parts of the country even Democrat local officials are relatively conservative. How many local politicians get elected promising to raise taxes and spend it wastefully? Over time as they work their way up the political ladder to Congress their mind is altered and they end up voting for, as an example, Obama’s statist agenda. Want examples? Harry Reid and Tom Daschle were originally pro-life, deficit hawks, but many years of office later…

Don’t think I’m just picking on Democrats. The Republicans in Congress during George W. Bush’s Presidency are perfect examples of CGSS run amuck. Except for relative rookies, most congressional Republicans went along with Bush’s domestic agenda, including increased deficit spending, Medicare expansion, and (so-called) immigration reform, at least until their constituents raised a big ole ruckus. Most of these politicians had been in one or another elected office for over a decade, some most of their lives.

CGSS is the result of prolonged exposure to the political machinations most deem necessary in doing one’s job as an elected representative. These influences are felt at all levels of government. The longer one’s in office, and the higher the office held, the stronger the affects.

How is your local politician affected by this? Isn’t he a neighbor? He might be a friend. He’s not an absentee member of your community who spends most of his time hundreds or thousands of miles away. How can he possibly be like those career politicians in Washington or your state capitol? Well, just imagine the following conversation:

Citizen: Alderman (City Councilperson, whatever…), I’ve been running this program of late night basketball at our church’s recreation center during the summer to give kids something to do, and to keep them out of trouble.

Politician: Great idea! You’re doing the Lord’s work. How’s it going?

Cit: We’ve had an overwhelming response. That’s the problem. It’s gotten so big it’s outgrown our facilities.

(Here’s where it takes a possible turn.)

Option 1 (Personal Favorite):

Pol: Why don’t you reach out to other congregations to create simultaneous programs at other churches? It would spread out the kids and create opportunities for inter-congregational competition. Also, it could foster ecumenicalism between denominations.

Cit: I hadn’t considered that. I was thinking the city might let us use those big courts at the local park.

Pol: I understand your thinking, but it’s just not financially feasible. The agencies involved are already operating on tight budgets. It’s probably best to keep this program self-run. As a matter of fact, I’ll speak to my minister and put him in touch with you.

Cit: Well… thanks anyway. I’ll consider what you’ve said.

Option 2 (Not bad):

Pol: Really? What are your plans?

Cit: Well, I’ve been thinking about it. The city has those big Public Courts that go unused after dark. Is there a possibility we can have access to them?

Pol: I’m not sure. Yes, they are there, but there are budgetary considerations. Parks and Recreations would have to have available funds for staffing and electricity. Also, I’m not sure the neighborhood would appreciate a bunch of kids and more road traffic without an increased police presence.

Cit: Well, there would be volunteers from the church…

Pol: I know, but it could open up the city to liability issues. Tell you what I’ll do… I’ll speak to the Mayor/ City Manager and see if there is any wiggle room in the existing budget.

Cit: Thank you. I understand there may be problems. Any help you can give would be much appreciated.

Option 3 (All too often…):

Pol: That’s terrible! Is there any way I can help?

Cit: Well, you have those big Public Courts going unused after dark…

Pol: You’re absolutely right! A program like that deserves access to the city courts. They are for “The Public.” What else are these kids to do? It shouldn’t cost much, and I’m sure there’s a federal/ state program for “at-risk” youth we can tap. I’ll have my staff contact the grant writers at City Hall and see what is available. If there isn’t something, I’ll contact our Congressperson/ Legislator to see if they can earmark some funds for this important program.

Cit: Gee! You’ve really gone above and beyond my expectations. You can count on my support come election time.

Now, don’t think me too cynical, but how many local politicians would prefer the third version of this conversation to take place? Sorry to say, but after the initial election most politicians seem bent on re-election. Even those originally elected with the attitude represented by the first two options could grow weary of disappointing constituents. Why should they when other funding sources are readily available?

Most politicians probably didn’t seek office with any strong ideological grounding. Maybe, most of them just wanted to “get things done.” If in the course of “getting things done” they’ve had to tap other funding sources, well, so be it. If they can’t ask constituents to directly pay for services they (may or may not) request, perhaps there’s somebody else they can ask who is more than happy to “generously” hand it out. All’s the better, right?

A moment to rant about taxing and spending in America:

Unfortunately, the lion’s share of tax money in the U.S. is collected by Washington. It not so slowly became this way since the passing of the 16th Amendment, the Income Tax. Over this time, the federal government began edging out states and localities for access to tax dollars (the Feds get first pickings and they take it out of your paycheck). As a result, citizens have become less likely to approve state and local tax increases (the closer the government, the more say we have).

Simultaneously, Washington began “revenue sharing” with the states. “Sharing” being just a fancy way of saying, “We’ll let you have some back, if you spend it how we tell you.” At first, this was fine with most states. They were either bigger and richer (and got to tell the yokels how to spend the money) or were smaller and poorer (and what are a few strings when the money is free?).

Every governmental body has a full-time staff dedicated to writing grant requests to federal and state agencies. The existence of these agencies is to spend “other people’s” money on “worthy” projects. Most of the state agencies are just funnels for federal dollars allocated under “block grants.” These grants are money “given” to the states to spend, as long as they chip in matching funds and follow miles of rules and regulations.

So, we’ve come to a situation where we elect people to take our money, under penalty of law, to some far away capitol. These people decide how much (if any) of our money we get back and how it must be spent. The Founders’ original plan for the flow of tax money has been reversed, reducing our sovereign states to virtual administrative districts of a central authority. In addition, for the partial return of our money, we get to pay the (generous) salaries of an endless number of middle men whose jobs are to constantly meddle in our affairs.

The cause and effects of CGSS:

Do you remember what your dad said about you eating bread and salad at the all-you-can-eat places? “That’s how they get you!” Your dad was right. He didn’t pay $9.99 for you to load up on rabbit food. You were there to eat the meat and potatoes.

Well, a politician has been “got” the moment he buys into the idea in any way that taxation can or should take place at a different level of government than that at which the money is spent. We don’t tax just one locality to pay for the military. A federal purpose requires federal tax money be spent on it. The same logic applies to local and state purposes. The citizens of California shouldn’t be taxed to pay for roads or schools in West Virginia, or vice versa.

Everyone knows there’s no such thing as “free” money. However, seventy-five years ago in the midst of the Depression it must have seemed almost free. It’s a different world today. Now, there exists an intricate web of rules and regulations surrounding all “grant” money. How much money is actually consumed with ancillary costs associated with meeting requirements to get (or continue getting) the “free” money? Additionally, how much local control and personal liberty is lost as the price paid for accepting this “generosity?”

As an example, there exists a law, signed by George H.W. Bush, called “The Americans with Disabilities Act” (ADA). Put aside the Constitutional, ideological and ethical arguments about this law. If you receive any federal money in any way shape or form, directly or indirectly, you are affected. Guess what? Even if you don’t, you’re still affected because your local and state governments are.

How are you affected? Labor laws were changed, everywhere. Building codes were changed, everywhere. Educational requirements were changed, everywhere. Cost of government at all levels was increased, everywhere. Oh, did I happen to mention… EVERYWHERE?

How is it possible that one law can have such an effect that we are still witnessing its implementation twenty years after it was signed? Does the federal government really have that kind of all encompassing power? Though some portion of the ADA has to do with direct federal authority, most of its provisions have to do with an indirect power, the power of the purse-strings. States and localities were told,”If you want to continue receiving money from us, you will implement these regulations, including changing your laws and codes, as we see necessary. Oh, by the way. We’ll keep watch on you, forever. You’re welcome.”

That’s how they get us. You want federal highway dollars? Sure, but change your speed limits and drinking age. You want the school lunch program and federal education money? OK, here’s a list of approved foods and your curriculum. Oh well, “He who pays the piper calls the tune,” right?

If you’re a politician and answered “yes,” you may have CGSS. Sorry you have to be reminded, but the government’s money was actually taken from somebody. Somebody is the citizens of your states. They are the ones who pay, twice. They pay, with their life, the taxes over-collected by the federal government, and then again, with their liberty and sovereignty, for a return of a portion of their own money.

So, the problem with the call for a “deep bench” for the GOP, and with career politicians in general is CGSS. Do we want more people who have bought into the notion that it’s okay for a government to buy off its people with their own money? Instead, shouldn’t we seek people who’ve lived and worked in the world outside of government? Shouldn’t we find people who understand that governments have no money of their own, who believe in the founding principles of this country? We need to elect people who know that just because they’ve done it this way for decades doesn’t make it right. We need real change, but really for real this time.


One Response

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  1. StickeeNotes said, on February 11, 2010 at 12:00 am

    I agree 100%. You’ve touched on the important changes to Federalism that have drastically altered the balance of power between the federal government and the states. The popular literature calls it marble cake Federalism, but it could be more aptly described as state and local governments as ho’s and the federal government being the pimp. The use of grants in aid and categorical grants as weapons of control is an important issue that not many address. There is a good chapter in Politics in the American States by Russell Hanson on Intergovernmental Relations that should be required reading.

    As to the deep bench strategy.. You’re exactly right that the more a person is involved in government the more they tend to change. They begin to accept the system and start thinking about what it should do rather than what it shouldn’t be doing. The “government as a first solution” mentality is why many on the left are so mentally stunted. They can’t grasp change, or reform, outside of the context of government action. That significantly limits their creativity. The Republican solution shouldn’t be too adopt the Democrat’s narrow mindset by staffing state and local politics with Republicans. The focus should be on changing the dialogue and pointing out how one dimensional Democrats are (which is the perfect task for those who have dealt with the real world consequences of government involvement in their lives or business). Republicans need to remind folks that the best change happens when private individuals act together, rather than delegating it to some new bloated government program. If the Republicans want more state and local politicians, they need to have a strong program for educating and training interested candidates about Federalism and limited government. The only way their deep bench system can work (and I’m highly skeptical that it can work under any circumstances) is to make sure those entering office are ideologues who are firmly on board with a return to “layer cake” federalism.

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