Who Should Be in Congress

Who should be in Congress? Picking willing people at random would be an improvement over what we have now, but only because it would get around the legal bribery system. Short of eliminating that system, and even if we do eliminate it, there are changes that should be made to the Constitutional requirements for office holders and to the oath they affirm.

Currently representatives and senators must be at least 25 and 30 years old, respectively, U.S. citizens for 7 and 9 years, and inhabitants of the state being represented. The age requirement should be removed. I’ve met many 10 year olds more competent that Strom Thurmond at any age. Those who don’t want to vote for a 19-year-old candidate, but do want to send such people to war, should not expect that 19-year-old to vote for her or his elders. The length of citizenship should be changed to length of residence plus desire for citizenship. Citizenship should not be a marker of class and privilege. The bit about inhabiting the state represented should be strengthened to require that the candidate have actually spent at least 100 days per year in that state for each of the previous 7 or 9 years.

In addition, a maximum wealth requirement should be added. Anyone whose household possesses more than the median wealth for the district or state should be disqualified as lacking in public spirit, concern for others, and ability to represent those most in need of representation. This change alone would, of course, mean the complete emptying out of the current Congress, and might lead to a reduction in Congress Members’ salaries.

Finally, each prospective candidate should be required to personally visit the homes of residents to acquire a minimum of 1,000 supportive signatures before being eligible for office. This interaction would help eliminate some of the worst candidates and educate the others.

The current oath of office looks like this:
“I, American Patriot, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

This should be changed to:
“I, a citizen of the United States popularly elected to national office, promise to follow the will of the majority of my constituents to the best of my ability, except where that will conflicts with constitutional protections of minorities and individuals. I further promise to represent this nation as a whole in relation to the residents of the rest of the world in a spirit of magnanimity aimed at the creation of international trust and friendship.”

Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, and we have enough scoundrels in Congress already. Defending a document is an absurdly inappropriate duty for Congress Members, and asking them to keep an eye out for enemies of that document just encourages paranoia and militarism. Hence the changes to the first part of the old oath. The rest of the old oath is just empty bombast. How does one bear true faith and allegiance to a document, or even true faith without the allegiance, or false faith for that matter? No Congress Member in recent memory has taken on that obligation freely; they’ve all been extremely well paid in advance. If someone wanted to evade membership in Congress, they wouldn’t be taking the oath of office. If they weren’t going to discharge the duties of the office, they wouldn’t be there either; the important thing is to tell them what those duties are. If they could simply swear to discharge their duties well and make it so, we could go ahead and appoint them for life. If they need help from a deity, they probably lack the integrity that Congress is so badly in need of.

The new oath is intended to actually explain what the Congress Member’s duty is, namely to follow the will of the majority of their constituents to the best of their ability, except where that will conflicts with constitutional protections of minorities and individuals, and to represent this nation as a whole in relation to the residents of the rest of the world in a spirit of magnanimity aimed at the creation of international trust and friendship. This would be an oath to which someone could be held accountable. Many constituents would have opinions on whether their Congress Member had fulfilled this duty. Few can question that most Congress Members currently do not.