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Lessons Learned From Blagojevich Scandal

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Message Craig Harrington

We all know the old adage that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," but we seem to let this bit of wisdom slip through our grasp when it comes to our elected officials.  Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was removed from office after years of federal investigations and a very public scandal involving the literal sale of President Barack Obama's former seat in the U.S. Senate.  According to the National Post, Blagojevich was recorded on multiple occasions making disparaging and incriminating comments which will be used as evidence against him in upcoming criminal proceedings.The Blagojevich scandal gives a perfect example of taking the opportunity to remove a corrupt and self-serving politician from office. 

Unfortunately, Blagojevich was not removed in some sort of popular uprising.  He was forced out of office by the Illinois Senate due to the severity of the felony conspiracy and fraud charges drawn against him by the state Attorney General and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.  In fact, in 2006 Blagojevich was reelected by a wide margin after having already been condemned as one of America's least popular governors.  At the time it was also public knowledge that he was under investigation for the very offenses which eventually led to his removal from office.      

This highlights one of the biggest problems with American politics today.  We as a nation simply cannot get over our obsession to reelect our officials, yet we largely oppose the body to which these officials are being elected.  Using election data going back to 1964--22 election cycles--we find a staggering trend in the United States Congress.  The average success rate for reelection to the House of Representatives during the past 44 years is over 93 percent.  The success rate for the Senate is well over 81 percent.        

With such incredible success one would hope that the officials at least have popular consent, but when reviewing opinion data over much the same time period we come to a different conclusion.  Dating to 1975 the approval ratings for Congress steadily ebb around 40 percent, according to Gallup.  Approval ratings spiked dramatically--rising to 84 percent--in late 2001 when the 9-11 attacks brought a wave of patriotic unity to the nation.  For some perspective, we see that at the same time President George W. Bush's approval rating was as high as 93 percent.With the exception of a few spikes driven by national events, the people as a whole disapprove of their current leadership.  Nonetheless, we continue to support the establishment even when they completely ignore us.  Most Americans are unhappy with the health care and educational systems in this country.  They disapprove of the way our military is operating overseas, the cost burden of our budgetary mismanagement, and of our obvious losses due to "free trade" and other globalizations.  We are unhappy with our government, yet we continue to feed the machine by putting the same politicians back in to run the show.      

A congressional representative is given a two-year term, a senator six and a president four.  If, after their first term, they have not made decisions which we support then we need to stop supporting them.  When we elect an official we sign a contract guaranteeing them the limit of one term of office, if they haven't earned a second then we need to stop bringing them back.       

Once they are in office there is no way of removing them--unless they commit high crimes, as was the case with Blagojevich--but we can make the collective decision to not give them another opportunity to further ruin things.  If we start using this system to elect our leaders we will be much better off than in our current way.  We must remember that most of the unethical, immoral, corrupt, and self-serving things that our reps do are totally legal--or at least occupy a sufficiently gray area.  We cannot hope to have all of them step down in disgrace or be removed.  We need to stop reelecting them.


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Craig Harrington is pursuing a degree in History and Political Science at The Ohio State University. He is also a journalist for
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