This week I am going to veer away from Real Estate a bit. It’s related somewhat, as our economy struggles, and our elected leaders in congress and the White House fail to make the connection between it’s weakness and housing. It always has to do with real estate in some fashion. My rant today is going to be about the once vogue, now passe’ topic of term limits. We need them. We need them for all elected officials and I’m going to tell you why. I think I have figured people out and we are corruptible creatures, and power corrupts. I will illustrate why anybody would need term limits, if elected to – let’s just say for this illustration– the U.S. House of Representatives.
Suspend disbelief for a moment, and walk with me down an imaginary life that might or might not happen. Right now, I have a very comfortable life. I make a good, but not obscene, living as my own boss in Real Estate. I am confident that after being in the business for several years, I will be making a very comfortable, hopefully bordering on the obscene living, in the aforementioned profession. Now imagine that my kids are grown and making obscene amounts of cash in their own lucrative professions, and the lovely Mrs. Takacs has retired from education and is consulting, or speaking, or writing books and we are in the fabled “cat-bird’s seed.” At this point in my life it occurs to me that my civic duty to “give back” includes a run for the US House seat in Southern NM. Public service is a noble pursuit I tell myself, so I set out. Again, in my hypothetical world, I run, I win, and soon I’m a Freshman Congressman in Washington DC. The salary of $174,000 per year is a nice topping on my otherwise adequate resources, but I’m not doing this for the money. No. I’m doing it for the children.
I’m off to DC for my first session in congress. It’s great. I have a great apartment in Georgetown, paid for by you, and the first few nights I’m taken to very swanky restaurants and filled with liquor and lobster by lobbyists. The work begins, so I lay off the hooch for a few days to regain my strength for what I think will be a grueling session of “standing my ground” and “defending the little guy.” It turns out the sessions aren’t so grueling after all. In fact, it’s pretty much a come-and-go affair where you literally pick your battles and spend the rest of the time rubbing elbows in the halls and chatting up your staff and interns. Access to a first-rate gym facility gets my fitness juices flowing again and I’m feeling and looking pretty good. I settle into an easy rhythm and Mrs. Takacs and I are having a fabulous time seeing the sights and eating like kings. A few moths in and we haven’t paid for a single meal or night at the theater or museum admission. It’s sort of like being royalty and it begins to grow on me. My eyes are opened somewhat to the largely fruitless and feckless exercise known as legislating.
During my first recess, I come back home to New Mexico to reconnect with my constituents. I attend meetings at local civic clubs and I’m asked to speak at functions, fairs and town halls. Life is pretty mundane at home though, and I begin to miss the comfort, convenience and luxury of Washington. Of course, before I am able to get too restless, I’m invited to a couple junkets to Europe and Asia to tour some water treatment facilities and “out of the box” schools. These are paid for by lobbyists, of course, and no expense is spared from first class seats on flights to five star hotel stays to golf outings, and lavish galas while in country. These “educational” trips are a nice break in the monotony of the high desert of New Mexico. Before I know it, I have to be back in DC for meetings and talks to gear up for the coming session. A senior colleague asks me if I’ve begun work on my re-election campaign. No, I answer – I just got here. He informs me that to stay in Washington, you NEVER stop campaigning. I wonder to myself – do I really want to perpetually campaign for office?
When I decided to run, I thought that serving one or two terms would be enough, but I now begin to feel that the lifestyle afforded to a congressman may be too good to let go of easily. All of my colleagues talk constantly about how they are working to stay, not to be. It seems to be the reigning espirit de corps. Not just the elected man or woman themselves, but their staff, their families, their interns all seem to have their hopes and dreams pinned to that person staying in office. It is a group effort. They are unabashedly protective of their positions and perks. Slowly, the reasons for getting into politics fade into the growing sense of elitism and entitlement I feel as one of our Nation’s leaders. I realize soon enough, I don’t know if I can go back to being who I was. I don’t want to go back to selling real estate in Artesia, New Mexico. I don’t want to play golf everyday at Artesia Country Club, when I could be playing at Congressional and not paying for it. I don’t want to be isolated from the free dinners, trips, entertainment or the Per Diem and fuzzy expense reimbursement policies of the US House. I have it too good now, and over time I realize that I never want to give those things up.
It is thus decided over a period of time, not suddenly, that I will stay as long as I can in this penthouse of power. My energy and industry will, from this point forward, be dedicated to preserving the feather bed where I now lie. Power has had its way with me, and I succumb to its intoxicating elixir completely. When I speak to people, one individual or a convention hall full of them, I no longer truly believe the words that spring from my lips. The slogans that I campaigned on about removing barriers to business, protecting freedoms, and empowering the disenfranchised are empty promises now. Don’t get me wrong, I still plan to vote for bills I ought to vote for and against bills I ought to be against, given my right or left affiliation (It doesn’t really matter which side). But those are more about establishing myself as a good party member and pandering to the particular political bent of my district than doing the right thing. I would vote for a bill to slaughter puppies if it meant the party would inject cash into my reelection war chest in the next cycle. Power corrupts, and it’s work is compete in me.
The problem is that this illustration is reality in every corner of our Government. I used myself as an example and allowed my imagination to follow the thread of truth, but it’s not wild fantasy to travel down this imagined future. The only way to prevent the compete seduction of fallible humans by the power of leadership is to make sure they can’t stay permanently. If you know going in that you have two terms to serve and that’s it, the paradigm changes. Lobbyists won’t be willing to grant you lifetime memberships to their luxury and leisure associations. You won’t be as likely to be influenced by them, since you came here to work. You won’t allow yourself to become accustomed to the lifestyle of Washington, because you know you’re not a permanent resident.
It’s time we brought the idea of term limits back up for every elected official in our government. The crystal palaces our leaders have made for themselves are an affront to the reality of most working Americans today. We’ve allowed this class of “servants” to create a completely different America than the one where you and I live. It’s time to pull them back into our America and make sure we keep them here while they make rules for everyone. Many things need fixing, but this is one step we could take quickly in the right direction.
All Real Estate. All The Time.