A couple of years ago*, I described how the de facto Congressional retirement plan corrupts our politics:
…it’s about life after politics. One of the dirty secrets about many, if not most, congressmen and senators is that they like Washington, D.C., rhetoric notwithstanding. They want to stay in town after they leave (or lose) office. Once you’ve tasted the Capital of the Free World, do you really want to go back to Pierre, South Dakota? (Tom Daschle comes to mind…). It’s funny how many politicians, having made a career out of bashing War-Shing-Tun, don’t…seem…to…ever…leave.
I can’t blame them: I moved to Boston, and would be very happy to stay here. Places do grow on you. The problem comes, for politicians, when they have to find a job. For an ex-politician, there aren’t that many ‘straight paths’ to getting your next job: lobbyist and corporate board member are the easiest and the most lucrative.
But if you get a reputation as someone who opposes large business interests, what chance do you have of getting either of these types of jobs? Sometimes, the quid pro quo is very crude and direct (e.g., Billy Tauzin), but the Village’s political culture makes it clear what is acceptable. One should not be ‘populist’, or, heaven forbid, liberal.
Jim Henley recently noted how term limits would worsen this problem:
This relates to the cleverness behind the term-limits movement in the US. Not the “citizen-legislator” nonsense – add up the years you can spend running through three terms in the House plus two in the Senate, plus 12+ years on your state-government farm team before you go to The Show; you can put off returning to your farm for a good thirty years. But term limits does produce a regular crop of ex-Senators and turfed-out Representatives, and the truth is, these folks don’t really want to go back to their Tennessee mountain homes. They’ll want the sorts of incomes you can only get from interests who can afford to pay you those incomes. And that’s what you’re auditioning for as your legislative career draws to a close. The system already works this way. But under term limits, the extra volume of job-seekers makes it even more of a buyer’s market.
Rather than term limits, we should require former office holders to spend the equivalent of one term living in their district or state after leaving office**. I say, inflict these venial cretins on the bozos who elected them.
*For reasons I don’t entirely fathom, based on reaction to the original post, this apparently was a surprise to the progressive bloggysphere. Having grown up in the DC area, I thought this was self-evident.
**Yes, this is probably illegal.