Thursday, May 1, 2014

Is Congress really just like the rest of us?

Dana Milbank points out that three of Congress's bad guys were bad guys before voters sent them to Washington:
This is crucial evidence in the-chicken-or-the-egg, nature-vs.-nurture debate about what makes politicians go bad. Are they upstanding people polluted by Washington’s ways? Or is there something wrong with the type of person who runs for Congress in the first place?

The latest data points suggest fault rests on voters in the 50 states and 435 districts that send their representatives here. Perhaps politics attracts those with an inflated sense of self who feel exempt from the usual rules. It’s also possible that Congress actually does look like the United States, except individual flaws here are magnified because of the scrutiny. Assemble any random group of 535 Americans and you’re bound to find a few drug users, perverts, crooks and clowns.

Um, I'm not so sure about those last two sentences. While in a randomly selected group of 535 Americans you may find a few of the unsavory types Milbank mentions, I don't know that you'd find that all 535 would be willing to engage in the unsavoriness it takes to get themselves elected. I mean, would you make myriad, contradictory, and insincere (save for those made to your most influential sponsors) commitments to every breathing, age of majority, being who might influence your chances of getting a job? A job where your continued employment would be determined by your willingness to continue in precisely that vein throughout your entire career? I thought not. Nor do I suspect would very many, let alone all, of 535 randomly selected Americans.

So, no, Congress actually does not look like the United States. And, yes, politics indeed attracts those with an inflated sense of self who feel exempt from the usual rules.

Public choice theory suggests that politicians are self-interested individuals, subject to all the frailties of ordinary citizens. I agree, although I would add --- and some!

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