New congressmen attend seminars teaching them the ropes and showing them their leashes. You’ll be told something like, “To get along, go along.” Of course you want to get along, but the phrase, go along, means to obey entrenched politicians as if you were (as a former legislative analyst put it) their cattle.
That will be your first pitfall. You can’t be fully independent; and you must, at first, defer to the views of others. For that reason, you should resolve to find out what veteran congressman’s views are closest to your own and seek advice from him.
When seeking out wiser veterans, be as discerning as you can. If a congressman tells you that he entered Congress with Newt Gingrich or Bob Barr—as if that remark is supposed to boost him in your eyes—take that as a warning that he’s a neocon plant.
After all, if you were entering a culinary school, what would you think if a prospective culinary instructor told you that he’d learned his skills along with Jeffery Dahmer or Hannibal Lector?
Oh, I’m sure you’ve been told, “Read each bill before you vote on it.” If you did that, you wouldn’t have time to do anything else. The good news is, you can satisfy the reason that people tell you to read each bill. They don’t want to burden you with a lot of reading. What they really want is for you to know what’s in each bill before voting on it. That’s a reasonable request, isn’t it?
You can usually satisfy that request by keeping in close touch with special interest groups on all sides of an issue. They will find things in the bill that you would never have located even if you spent all your time reading bills.
Again, this calls for discernment. Reasons given for supporting a bill often differ from the real reasons—ulterior motives, in other words. Yes, yes, I know: It sounds like conspiracy theory. You’ll soon learn (if you didn’t know already) that Machiavelli was right when he said, “Politics, by its very nature, is conspiratorial.”
You should also do as the late Senator Strom Thurmond said. When reviewing a bill, ask yourself three questions, in order: “Is it constitutional?” If it isn't, don’t bother with the next two questions. “Is it wise?” Ditto. “Can we afford it?” That will greatly simplify the decision on whether to vote for it.
If there’s still some doubt in your mind, vote against it. You see, every bill has some impact on people’s freedoms. If for no other reason than that, most bills are bad bills. On top of that, it’s much more difficult to repeal a bad bill than it is to pass a good one.
Respect for your office staff often means a healthy dose of humility—recognizing that their knowledge and insight can take you a long way in building your team. Going back to then-Congressman Ed Young, I was interviewing him in his office (in January 1973) when the phone rang. The side of the conversation I heard went something like this:
“Oh, hi, Floyd. What did you want to talk to me about?”
“I thought you called me.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what, Floyd: You ask your secretary, and I’ll ask my secretary, and we’ll find out who called who and what we wanted to talk about.”
Of course, your dependence on your staff means you’ll have to use wisdom in selecting your staff and building a smoothly working office.
You’ll also find out that very few congressmen actually write bills. There’s much more to writing a bill than just writing what seems like a good idea at the time. Somebody has to do the research and find out how the bill would impact laws that are already on the books.
From time to time, I hear people say that they don’t have any political framework or philosophy. If a bill sounds good, they vote for it. Bad idea.
It’s like a church I once heard about. Four proposals were placed before the congregation. Each proposal sounded good, so they voted for each proposal. Then somebody pointed out how each proposal impacted the other three proposals. Here are the four things the church had decided to do:
1. Build a new sanctuary.
2. Build it on the same site as the old sanctuary.
3. Build the new sanctuary using as many salvageable materials from the old sanctuary as possible.
4. While the new sanctuary was being built, they’d continue to hold services in the old sanctuary.
So, you see, Mr. Tea Party Congressman, you need a framework and a philosophy to guide you—a framework that overarches all that you do.
Bills are often written by the people who would most benefit from them, and these interest groups often do the necessary legislative research on them. While this can save you a great deal of time, and give you the benefit of a great deal of expertise for free, there are also pitfalls. Don’t turn up your nose at this kind of assistance, but do sniff at it a little more carefully than usual.
There’s another tendency you should try to avoid. The rightness or wrongness of a bill can’t be weighed by how much support or opposition it has. That’s often because of the incentives involved in supporting or opposing a bill.
Let’s say a certain bill would cost the taxpayers $50 million. That’s just a few cents per taxpayer. You wouldn’t find much serious opposition to the bill. Let’s say that same bill would benefit a certain company to the tune of $25 million. That company would have the incentive to drum up a lot of support for that bill, wouldn’t they? Here, the if-in-doubt rule applies: If in doubt, vote against it.
There’s much more I could say, I’m sure, but I’ll leave you with one of the most important points. You can’t give what you don’t have. Every dollar you handle as part of your job belongs to someone else: the taxpayers. It’s theirs. If you presume to give what is not yours to give—whatever the reason—it’s not generosity; it’s theft. Anything that’s immoral or unethical for a private citizen is just as immoral or unethical for an officeholder.
When you take lessons on how to do your job as congressman, the entrenched power brokers will leave out some important information. It’s called the mushroom treatment; on those matters, they’ll keep you in the dark and feed you manure. For my four-part explanation of how Washington really works, click here, here, here, and here.
They’ll also give you the mushroom treatment on foreign policy. Will Rogers had it right: “Diplomats are as important at starting wars as soldiers are at finishing them. Take the diplomacy out of a war and the whole thing will fall flat in a week.” If you want to know who America’s enemies are, don’t trust the sources that benefit from starting wars.
For a crash course in these matters, check out the series of articles titled “How Terrorism Really Works.” For a series of articles giving you an overview of what we must do to “take America back” from the such disaster industry characters as banksters and the military-industrial complex, check out “Reclaiming America’s Representative Government.”
I started this blog, the American Action Report mainly as a guidebook for freedom rather than as an alternative news source. The Vatic Project does a fine enough job as a news source.
I think I’ve given you enough to read.
In the closing credits to the old television series Profiles in Courage, then President Kennedy said, “These stories of past courage can teach; they can offer hope; they can provide inspiration; but they can not supply courage itself. For courage, each man must look into his own soul.” In a sense, I’ve tried to do with the American Action Report what John F. Kennedy said he’d tried to do with Profiles in Courage. I would suggest, though, that you look higher than your own soul and seek wisdom and courage from the Universal Soul Who is the Source of both.