Trey Gowdy went to Washington to change things, but ended up facing a Congress that had degenerated into blood sport. “If winning is the only thing that matters, it’s not a game that I can play.” So he left. But most of the others remain.
Lindsey Graham has been playing this game for almost thirty years. The slow but steady accrual of power, and then the husbanding of that money and power, took him decades. The founding fathers never intended for there to be a permanent political class. Jefferson believed in a rotation of office, and that ‘whenever a man cast his longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.’ I think we can see a thread here from 1799 straight to Senator Graham, now looking for another six years. Said Lindsey, ‘If you don’t want to get re-elected, you’re in the wrong business.’ That. That right there is the problem with our democracy. When personal political ambition trumps all, then America is lost.
The reason Lindsey Graham has risen to the top is not because he is a brilliant statesman. The reason is that he is a cagey political operator. The reason he is always out in front is not because he is a leader, it is because he can raise money. This is not what America needs, but it is what America gets. We get players who don’t have any incentive to win for the country, but every incentive to rack up big stats. Their stats? How much money can I raise? How much time on TV can I get? How many elections can I win?
The game our politicians play is not to do something, it is to be somebody.
They raise millions of dollars each election cycle and sustain their victories with more yelling, only deepening the rivalries. The side effects of their success are this: donors pay for political access, lobbyists bundle contributions and write our laws, corporate PACs just pay all the politicians. America needs fewer of these celebrity politicians, and more people who just want to serve.
Another side effect is more hearings. ‘I do know everyone except me seems to want these public freak show hearings,’ Gowdy said. When I hear in the news that someone in DC has called for another hearing, all I really hear is, ‘I’m not interested in the real work, I’m just interested in this freak show stuff if it gets my face on TV’ (MVP for Senator Graham). The hearings are now made for media moments, on both sides.
There is a shelf life that has long expired for many of these players, Republican and Democrat. When Pelosi was first in office the Berlin Wall was still standing. And when Chuck Schumer won his initial election Led Zeppelin was still a band. This entrenched incumbency allows old pols like Graham and McConnell, Schumer and Pelosi, to thrive. If the only goal is power, they shine. If the goal is to form a more perfect union, we lose. This petty aristocracy at the heart of our government does not appear to be what our founders envisioned, but bears more resemblance to some Downton Abbey-era House of Lords. Though the divisive nature of politics suits them it is no balm for our country. Examine a recent event where Lindsey fired up the crowd by pronouncing, ‘They hate us.’
These legacy players have played their games, but now the price is too high. We need a Congress that will serve the people, not themselves. Our great American story will not move forward with this elite political class. I do believe their time is up.