Sick of your Congressman? Elect a Veteran
Our dysfunctional Congress is riddled with self-serving politicians who resist for the sake of resisting. It needs disciplined problem solvers who embody the spirit of public service. The most unproductive Congress in 164 years needs more military veterans to supplant strident career politicians.
Admittedly, that's easier said than done, but there may be ways to make races against entrenched incumbents more competitive. For example, there's a checkbox on your tax forms that reads: "Presidential Election Campaign: Check here if you ... want $3 to go to this fund[.]" There should be another checkbox, more conspicuous, with the caption, "Do you want $X of your federal tax dollars to go to the Elect Veterans to Congress Campaign Fund?"
The usual grievance merchants who cling to equal protection conventions should be quelled by the fact that minorities have an equal opportunity to serve. Moreover, when the hispanic demographic is included, the racial makeup of the U.S. military roughly mirrors the population at large. Admittedly, women are less represented among veterans, but their numbers are increasing inexorably. Indeed, they apparently intend to storm the halls of Congress, so let's give them the financial wherewithal.
Our electorate is deeply divided, and we probably get the politicians we deserve: rather than lead opinion, they wallow in intellectual laziness and exacerbate tensions with intemperate propaganda. In this context, the potential rewards of electing more military veterans, who are more likely to pursue practical solutions than succumb to orthodoxy, exceed the costs. Actually, since presidential candidates are relying less on public money, an additional option would be to divert proceeds from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund to the Elect Veterans Fund.
While most voters don't see campaign finance reform as a big problem, they are sensitive to veterans' needs, as are pandering politicians. Taking care of veterans is one goal that fosters bipartisan support, so diverting flexible funds (in 2014, Congress converted political party convention funding to a pediatric research program) to benefit would-be veteran candidates may engender goodwill. Indeed, the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees are about the only ones in Congress who sometimes reach accord, shepherding legislation that benefits veterans through the congressional labyrinth.
A political axiom is that "money is the mother's milk of politics." It is also something many veterans with the gumption to run for office lack and is a big reason their appeal doesn't always translate into electoral success. Perhaps the Veterans' Affairs Committee could prevail upon their colleagues to amend campaign finance laws to fund veterans seeking federal office. This could do wonders to restore trust to an institution whose approval ratings are abysmal.
Interestingly, Congress's disapproval ratings have mirrored the declining number of veterans serving in Congress. These charts show the decline of veterans in Congress. Not only in absolute terms, but the percentage of veterans in public office has declined greater than their percentage of the population. This chart from Gallup shows the decline of Americans' level of confidence in the three branches of government. None is salutary, but Congress's public image is downright dismal. This table is even more embarrassing for our labored lawmakers, especially when contrasted to the military. When asked about their confidence in various institutions in American society, Americans rated Congress lowest with a measly 9 percent in June 2016 and a paltry improvement to 12 percent in June 2017. Conversely, the military is highly esteemed, with confidence levels of 73 and 72 percent, respectively.
Hmmm...I know that a tenet of our constitutional republic is to not conflate military and political power, but Congress would surely benefit from an influx of veterans infused with military-style values.
There is an ingrained creed that veterans have forged in the military cauldron that will better serve our republic. Rather than fight for fight's sake (someone once joked that Schumer would block his own nomination to the Supreme Court), they know who our real enemies are and fight to win for America. Their experiences prepared them for principled debate without describing the political opposition as enemies of America. Veterans are trained to be pragmatic problem-solvers who are less inclined to sacrifice what's good for what's perfect. Such ideological purity may exist in the partisan echo chambers of Congress or the ivory towers of fake academia, but it is ephemeral in the real world.
Winning a House seat in 2012 cost about $1.6 million, but much of that was concentrated in battlegrounds. Consider that the Presidential Election Campaign Fund's balance was about $290 million in 2015-16. Despite far fewer taxpayers contributing overall, in recent years, about $40 million is added annually to the fund. It's reasonable to predict that a Veterans' Campaign Fund would quickly surpass that and, when divvied up strategically by political party officials, would help replace lazy incumbents with patriotic, disciplined public servants who are not obsessed with orthodoxy but are keen to help make America great again.
Clearly, both major parties believe that veterans are attractive candidates, though their general appeal is not enough to unseat incumbents latched onto the money teat. Our society acknowledges the importance of military veterans by giving them bonus points in federal hiring scoring systems. Public funding to elect veterans to federal office would level the political playing field and give a much needed boost of dynamism to the legislative process. Maybe we'll even end up with a do-something Congress.