You never know who the next hero or world leader might be. It could be the straight C student down the street, or the autistic chess genius who keeps to himself in the back of the classroom. Barack Obama was raised by a hippy, and he didn’t do too bad for himself. Benjamin Netanyahu went to high school about three miles from my childhood home in Philadelphia, and look where he ended up. It almost seems random. So why couldn’t my kids be the next Nobel Laureates?
My children hate that I force everyone to eat dinner together. All their friends play video games or watch the Bachelor on television while they eat, but I encourage lively discussion at the dinner table. I hope it’s helping their conversational and debating skills. Last night’s topic was politics. My son is studying civics in school and learning how our government is assembled. He had heard somewhere that you had to be rich to run for Congress, and he wanted to know why. Great question, uncomfortable topic — especially for a teacher. For a moment, I almost told him the bigger issue was they were mostly rich — and white. I temporarily quelled my desire to advise him that you should never discuss religion or politics in a business environment — or at dinner. My wife shook her head and thought about leaving, but the good sport she is, she stuck around this time, almost challenging me with a silent look that I know for a fact conveyed “Well, how are you going to handle this one, hot shot?”
First of all, I had to disclaim that not all congresspersons are wealthy. Hank Johnson and Bobby Rush don’t have a pot to pee in. Alcee Hastings and Ruben Hinojosa seem even worse, with negative fortunes, but that’s often deceiving. Chances are you had a positive fortune at some point if you have accountants smart enough to put you in severe redness. But he was right for the most part, as many of our representatives have vast wealth, like Ms. Pelosi’s estimated $100 million fortune. Mark Warner has twice that much.
The underlying question, why, is a difficult one. Without permanently souring my son on politics or introducing him to conspiracy theorists, I scoured my neurons for something painless that he could digest. Fortunately, I found something quickly that could also help his social development. “Wealthy people have a lot of friends. Most of them are successful in business, so their friends are probably successful too. The more friends you have, the better chance you have of getting elected. And the richer your friends are, the more money they can contribute to help.”
Honestly, it was brutally painful to sugarcoat that line of bullshit. Campaign contributions and lobbying are nothing more than legalized bribes. Representatives are supposed to protect the best interests of their constituents, but many of those representatives have no idea how their constituents live. What really happens is that rich guys help their buddies get elected in exchange for handshake favors that help everyone involved get wealthier. Government contracts, favorable legislation, special appointments, and so on. That’s not what our founding fathers had in mind, but that’s the end result. I thought it better to let him find that out for himself.
My son digested my line of bullshit for a moment. I was hoping to change the subject, but he beat me to it with another zinger. “Why does everyone have to belong to a political party?”
I was beginning to think the people who watched television during dinner were the smarter ones. “Well, think of it like a club, or more like a football team. There are two main teams, like vicious divisional rivals, kind of like the Cowboys and, well, anyone who’s not the Cowboys. Their teammates all kind of stick together for a number of reasons. One team wants the government to help the people, and the other side thinks people should help themselves. There’s the left and right, and all that confusing stuff your teacher will talk about.”
Somehow, my naive little man, who’s still just a boy with no sense of how fucked up the world truly is, managed to come up with a solution that makes complete sense. “Maybe if regular people got to run the government, and there weren’t any parties, we might end up with the best government. Why aren’t representatives chosen like that jury duty thing you have to do?” Profound, yet quite simple. His unjaded young mind just figured out how to completely level the field.
Although no one knows for sure, many scholars believe our founding fathers never intended governing to be a career. What if representatives were truly representative of the people? What if Beyonce the Barista or Ernesto the Electrician were chosen randomly to represent their state? Wouldn’t that give us a more balanced government indicative of the true voice of its people? Sure, even an average person can slant wickedly, but with a one-term limit, he or she would certainly cause much less damage than a life-term senator. I had never thought of a jury duty congress. Shoot, better yet, let 12 year-olds run the country for a couple years. Couldn’t be any worse than it already is. Fortunately, my son hadn’t become too familiar with the democratic atrocity known as The Electoral College yet.
So let’s recap. He’s going to run for congress as a poor, independent, one-term representative. I won’t ever tell him that he doesn’t have a shot in hell, but many folks didn’t think Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela did either. I think he’s on to something. We should try it his way for a decade or two. Now, if I can only keep his fragile mind away from Fox News forever, we may end up with a Nobel winner.