What does it take to get elected to high political office in America these days?
Start with a requirement to beg for money. Big money. As in seven figures. As in days, weeks and months on the rubber-chicken circuit nodding heads, shaking hands and swapping jokes with people of means, many of whom believe they’re buying a piece of you with their campaign donations.
Then add the requirement of putting yourself and your friends and family through an invasive examination by a media bent on finding whatever back-breaking scandal they can get your hands on. Heaven forbid someone took your picture when you had too much to drink one night or that your brother got in a bar fight 10 years ago; such blemishes on one’s honor might finish your political career before it even begins.
Such a life simply doesn’t appeal to the most talented people in America. What do we get in return?
Sen. Chuck Schumer loves the sound of his own voice, but it carried a bit farther than he might have liked on the US Airways shuttle from New York to Washington on Sunday.
According to a House Republican aide who happened to be seated nearby, the notoriously chatty New York Democrat referred to a flight attendant as a “bitch” after she ordered him to turn off his phone before takeoff.
Schumer and his seatmate, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), were chatting on their phones before takeoff when an announcement indicated that it was time to turn off the phones.
Both senators kept talking.
According to the GOP aide, a flight attendant then approached Schumer and told him the entire plane was waiting on him to shut down his phone.
Schumer asked if he could finish his conversation. When the flight attendant said “no,” Schumer ended his call but continued to argue his case.
He said he was entitled to keep his phone on until the cabin door was closed. The flight attendant said he was obliged to turn it off whenever a flight attendant asked.
“He argued with her about the rule,” the source said. “She said she doesn’t make the rules, she just follows them.”
When the flight attendant walked away, the witness says Schumer turned to Gillibrand and uttered the B-word.
Obviously, this is a minor incident. But it’s revealing. Schumer and his cohorts in Senate and the Congress – the list is a long one and includes luminaries from both sides of the aisle – continuously display an attitude of what Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed called “scumbag entitlement,” leading to a constant stream of scrapes with us mere mortals. Whether it’s Schumer playing Clarence Darrow at the expense of a USAir flight attendant, Barbara Boxer demeaning the chair of the Black Chamber of Commerce in a racist fashion, Harry Reid telling the ad sales manager of the Las Vegas paper “I hope you go out of business,” Chuck Grassley suggesting the CEO of AIG commit suicide or the myriad gaffes of Jim Bunning, what we see is a group of people who think of themselves as shining stars – an image contrary to the opinion of the rest of us.
How to fix this problem? Some tout term limits as a solution, and certainly any rule which dethrones a Schumer, Robert Byrd, Pat Leahy, Arlen Specter or Lindsey Graham before they achieve institutional status can’t be all bad – unless the end result is to trade a Schumer for an Alan Grayson, in which case term limits are a fruitless exercise.
There really is no solution, truth be told. America’s media culture will insure that our political class will largely consist of attention whores, crooks and clowns for the foreseeable future. To a large measure our Founding Fathers saw this coming, and as such crafted a republic wherein the government was sharply limited in its capabilities – Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and George Washington would have taken one look at Barney Frank or Chris Dodd and grabbed for the ropes and guns.
Perhaps we should return to their original prescriptions and revisit the idea of limiting the power of politicians to affect our lives – and in so doing make it less important how obnoxious or crooked Chuck Schumer or Henry Waxman might be.