The tandem of revolutions labeled American and French created, defined, and refined the concept of the citizen. The persons granted the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the American Declaration of Independence, many of whom paid the ultimate price for making those rights reality, were further liberated from the constraints of voting qualifications by the blood spilt under the battle-cry of “liberte, egalite, and fraternite” (liberty, equality, and brotherhood) throughout the First Republic of France. Before the French Revolution devolved into the Terror, “citizen” meant an enfranchised voter in whose hands rested the direction the nation would take. “Citizen” rose like a phoenix out of the ashes of the caste-like “levels” of a class-dominated society. Not until the election of Andrew Jackson in the United States did citizenship in our country begin shaking off the shackles of economic and social class, a “shaking-off” ongoing through women’s suffrage in the early 20th century and the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Thanks to our citizenship in this country we are as close today to universal suffrage as ever.
Since the 18th century, to be citizen is to be an iconoclast of class of all ilks. Consequently, political conservatives have been wary of the concept of citizenship, as they traditionally have to be members of some sort of class (like the economic elite, the rich) in order to behave as conservatives. A conservative misconception is that full-fledged citizenship must lead to anarchy exemplified by the Terror. Such is political distortion and propaganda at its finest. The Terror, in my opinion, came about because the revolutionaries who had won control of the nation failed, under the strain of holding off the rest of Europe bent upon their destruction — failed to keep in balance “liberte, egalite, and fraternite.” The first and third terms were sacrificed by an overbalanced middle; anyone different or above average was stupidly seen as “counter-revolutionary” and often guillotined. No such parallel devolving occurred in America, as the citizens of the new United States of America were not as socially or economically differentiated into caste-like socio-economic classes as were the people of France under the aristocratic monarchy of the “ancient regime.” (We also need not feel our becoming true citizens was bloodless, though, admittedly, we did not experience the bloodbath often associated with the Terror. In the wake of the American Revolution, think of all the loyalists and Tories who fled, sometimes not very peacefully, and think of the fighting that occurred in the wake of the establishment of the US Constitution, such as in the Whiskey Rebellion and the Indian Wars perpetuated because many native Americans fought on the British side.)
Citizens, therefore, are at odds to some degree with conservatism; that is part of who we citizens are. Conservatives prefer to call their antagonists “liberals” and call whatever is championed by their antagonists “liberalism,” by which they erroneously and distortedly mean various forms of “socialism,” “communism,” or “left-wing politics.” Citizens in the original meaning of the word “liberal” are indeed liberal, but the latter-day irresponsible usage of “liberal” by the conservatives nudges me to use some other word besides “liberal” to accurately describe those who are citizens in the best sense of the word — those who strive to keep in balance all three: liberte, egalite, and fraternite. That other word is “liberalist” (see Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones, But Words We Don’t Know Can Also Hurt Us, or, Jesus was a Liberalist).
Citizens, or political “liberalists,” are committed to the universal distribution of power and wealth, or the universal distribution of social enfranchisement. Only when we all have a fair shot at the “American dream” can we realistically have for everyone life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Like universal suffrage (no voting under a certain age), universal enfranchisement is not absolute and not to be interpreted simplistically. You cannot build your own wealth upon the denial of wealth to others; you cannot succeed in life because of some advantage of blood, wealth, or connections excluded from others. You can only succeed (or fail) based upon merit, not based upon a unlevel “playing” field upon which you had a “head start.” Class structure in society is detrimental and obscurantist to universal enfranchisement.
Hence, conservatives either covertly or overtly work for the continuation of class structure in our country. The most successful class structures in the United States, continuing to this day, are those of economic privilege, of wealth. It could be worse — we could have class structure built upon blood, an aristocracy if you please. Though vestiges of the powerful and privileged today act aristocratically, their influence has been, in my opinion, waning for over a century. But, and this is a big “but,” wealth is today mal-distributed in our country more than ever, it seems; most of the money is in the hands of the very few (the “1%”). It seems now that rich conservatives, to preserve their privilege, are reduced to giving lip service only to the notion we are a republic; they really work to have our country be an oligarchy, ruled by the few, or, more precisely, an oligarchic plutocracy, ruled by the rich few.
So, there is a covert socio-economic class operating aristocratically in our country, the class of the super-rich. And they are utilizing the conservative class-preserving political tradition to help them stay covert and super-rich. The more they pay (through campaign contributions and lobbying), the more they stay covert and super-rich. Helping them “stay,” controlling most of the wealth of the country, and helping them prevent the rest of us from also becoming more economically well off than we are is another covert class — the political professional class. In other words, our founding fathers left a loophole in the Constitution upon which has been built a class of rich politicians who get re-elected to Congress time after time after time. We have limited the terms wherein a person can be President, finally, and the only life-long servants of the government envisioned by the founding fathers are the justices of the Supreme Court, but the number of terms a Representative or Senator can serve was left open-ended. The results are people like Strom Thurmond.
I submit to my fellow citizens that the framers of our Constitution had in mind a member of the new Congress who was a true public servant, who went to the nation’s capital (probably at a pay cut) out of the sense of duty to the voters who elected that servant. The merits of both short-term (Representatives) and long-term (Senators) members of Congress were well-considered, but there was some naiveté on the part of our framers (for which they can be forgiven in a heart-beat, for, at the time, this was all new and unprecedented — you cannot expect them to have thought of everything!) for leaving it open for election term-after-term and making a great living (i.e. becoming filthy rich) as a result. Today, look at all the members of Congress who enter with modest means compared to their means when they exit! And much of their financial success comes from the ability to vote in their own salary! That means that members of Congress, especially those who are members most of their professional lives, exit Congress fat-cats, pockets filled with money, a lot of which comes from the pockets of citizens like you and like me.
Therefore, for my first call to all citizens, (Call I) I CALL FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF THE POLITICAL PROFESSIONAL CLASS! There is no new revolution, no revolt, no chopping off of heads; there is only using the wise tool left us by our founding fathers, the amending of the Constitution, as suggested by no lesser lights than Warren Buffet and many others. In other words, I call for Constitutional reform to prevent the future exploitation of our country by professional politicians from both sides of the aisle. The ability to amend the Constitution was “tailor made” by our framers to “take care” of classes like professional politicians that rear their ugly heads.
[Before listing the “nuts and bolts” of my suggestion of amending the Constitution to rid ourselves of exploitative professional politicians, I want to suggest the disturbing possibility of forgetting that we can indeed amend the Constitution. If a citizen forgets that, as it seemed at one time my friend Glen Kuban did when I sent him Warren Buffet’s ideas on these issues, the Constitution can be changed by a grassroots movement, circumventing the Congress, then that citizen might be resigned to political despair, as it seemed Glen was, knowing that Congress would never vote itself out of power, money, and longevity. Of course Congress would not do that to itself! That is why the founding fathers made sure the Constitution could be amended by the people. Look at the history of Constitutional amendments, such as the amendment to criminalize alcohol (Prohibition), the amendment to repeal Prohibition, and the amendment to limit the number of terms which the President can serve in a lifetime.]
In order to dismantle to political professional class that is most of Congress, the Constitution should be amended along these lines:
1) Representatives and Senators are limited to a certain number of terms for their lifetimes. I suggest members of the House should be limited to 3 elected terms in a lifetime and Senators limited to 2 elected terms. That means a person could serve in Congress a maximum of 3 x 2 + 2 x 6 = 18 years, if elected into both Houses during their political career. By implication, an additional 2 presidential terms could be tacked on, making a grand total of 26 years; that would be the extreme.
2) Salaries for Congresspersons are set at a ceiling, out of which all living expenses are taken, including traveling back and forth to their districts; no “budgets” are added to the salaries. If a member of Congress accepts money or any other assets from a registered or unregistered lobby, he or she will forfeit the rest of their term, be replaced by a referendum vote in their district done in a matter of weeks, and be ineligible to serve in Congress or as President for the rest of their life.
3) Benefits and insurance for members of Congress shall be the same as those for the ordinary citizen, including Social Security and Medicare.
4) While in service in Congress, should the member have school-aged children (up through high school), those children must attend public, not private schools.
Should amendments such as these become law of the land, being in Congress will cease to be a personal financial windfall and return to be an honored time of public service attuned to the will of the people, attuned to the citizen electorate.