Defend government

There’s an email flying through the Internet that starts by describing how quickly the constitutional amendment for the 18 year old vote passed Congress and the state legislatures.

Then the email proposes a new amendment to abolish Congressional tenure and pensions. There would be term limits and only Social Security to retire on. It calls for the same health insurance other Americans have. And it says, let’s demand passage right now.

Oh, dear. This is a set of bad ideas.

I am in great admiration of almost all of the men and women who commit their lives to government service. I disagree with most of them most of the time. But I admire them. They’ve taken a pay cut to run for office, they get an enormous amount of criticism, and they have to compromise and collaborate to get anything done.

It takes time to learn the legislative ropes. We have had term limits in Missouri since 1996, and now there is no one in the state legislature with an institutional memory. Every year they pass bills that contradict old legislation and have to be corrected the next year.

Worse, most of the legislation is written by lobbyists. The new legislators don't know how to write a bill.

And if we deny pensions to our government workers who are elected, only the rich will be able to afford to do the work.

The Internet call to action demands that Congress get the same health insurance as the American people. In fact, Congress does get the same health insurance that is the American plan, that is, insurance provided by their employer. I want to make others’ insurance more generous, not reduce what Congress gets.

This Internet message is mean-spirited and destructive of the concept of public service. It implies that all our elected officials are venal and we should punish them by reducing their pay or, better, sending them home.

This is not to say things are perfect. Public financing of elections would solve some significant problems. But lets not make it impossible for dedicated public servants to do the work.

When you get this message in your box, maybe labeled Term Limits or Congressional Reform, answer it. Hit “reply all.” Defend our public servants. Defend government.

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