The Gold War

What percentage of members of Congress really want to make things better for their constituents and the nation?

James Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"
Jimmy Stewart would not lie to me.

I confess that in my younger years, I believed that number was pretty high. I knew there were some representatives and senators who were in politics for themselves, for the fame and hopefully the fortune. But they were the exceptions. Maybe I took Mr. Smith Goes to Washington too seriously. I mean, would Jimmy Stewart lie to me?

Today, though, I feel like the ratio has turned the other direction. Members of Congress spend so much time trying to get re-elected, pretty much from the first moment they arrive in Washington, according to this 2016 60 Minutes feature from 2016 with then-Rep. David Jolly (R-Florida). He discussed the CBS interview the next morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe:

In that environment, is it any surprise that doing the actual work of Congress takes a back seat? The stakes are extremely high, especially for U.S. representatives who have to face voters every two years, and therefore require constant financial support for their next election from both individual contributors and their party. They have to spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to fundraise – becoming “a mid-level telemarketer, dialing for dollars,” according to fellow former Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minnesota), who co-sponsored the “Stop Act” with Jolly in 2016 to try to reduce the amount of time members of Congress spent on the phone with potential donors. And in order to get the precious funds they need from their party or certain major contributors, they also have pledge their devotion to political causes or positions that have almost nothing to do with the well-being of their own constituents, and that often are at odds with the principles and goals they had when they originally decided to run for public office.

“They put you on the phone and it’s a script,” says Jolly. “It’s a cult-like boiler room… where sitting members of Congress are compromising the dignity of their office… It’s shameful.”

Former U.S. Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) in 2016

Since the presidential election two weeks ago there have been comparisons to the country being as divided as we were just before the Civil War in 1860. I doubt we will see armed insurrection; if we’re not willing to be inconvenienced by wearing masks, I can’t see us having the will to have our lives interrupted by widespread street fighting. But it’s not hard to imagine two massive partisan armies, with PACs as the booming artillery, special interest groups as the armored cavalry, and thousands of medium to large individual donors barking battle commands to their foot soldiers: our representatives and senators in Congress.

Call it the Gold War.