Fear of incumbent politicians is silly

In the spring of my senior year of high school, I applied to a billion establishments in Minneapolis for a summer job. Like most of my peers at the time, I always had the “summer camp counselor” backup, but I thought it would be neat to be a hipster barista at a local coffee shop or a classy waitress at a restaurant that serves things like spinach frittata. Much to my chagrin, I was called back for exactly zero of these desirable jobs for two major reasons: a I was clearly only applying for the summer and b I had no experience in the service industry. These hipster hangouts and organic cafés wouldn’t even consider me unless I had direct and relevant experience.

The logic behind this hiring policy is that an applicant is probably better at a job, and requires less training, if she has already had a very similar one, thus rendering her a more desirable employee. Folks who follow this logic, like myself, are mystified upon reflecting on the current campaign trend of incumbents withholding mention of their political experience like they would their credit card bill from that weekend in Thailand.

It appears that a giant chasm exists between “people” and “politicians.” Americans’ disgust with incumbents makes it look like a job in Congress inherently makes people undesirable – everything leading up to a candidate’s campaign contributes to his or her credentials to lead, but all that begins to dwindle the second he or she takes the job. A candidate’s moment of glory is the first five minutes after election. This is bizarre.

For candidates running ads against incumbents, the geographic distance between a representative’s district and Washington D.C. has become a metaphor for cultural or emotional distance. In light of technological advances in our information age, this really doesn’t have to be the case. In theory, I could absorb the history of Seoul, South Korea on Wikipedia, watch hours of YouTube videos about the culture and people, learn Hangeul with Rosetta Stone, Skype with Koreans on many levels of the social hierarchy, develop sincere care for the city and become fairly qualified to advocate for the social and political concerns of Koreans from the comfort of my living room couch, while munching Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips. Granted, this would take a lot of time and commitment, so I would probably also need a beverage to accompany the Sun Chips. If this is possible, it is definitely possible for U.S. Congresspeople, who actually frequent their offices in the districts and states they represent and were born there or have spent significant portions of their lives there. Oh yeah, it’s also their job.

Being a congressperson means the entire country is a witness to your job performance. This means that everyone in the country can, and probably should, form an opinion based on your past in Congress about whether you should be re-elected. That being said, to decide that a congressperson should or should not be elected again solely because he or she is an incumbent doesn’t logically follow. They must have done something or many somethings specifically to justify their removal from office.

But what of the fact that everyone hates Congress? Their approval rating has plateaued at around 10 percent since summer. That means that in a room of one hundred random Americans, ten will say they approve of the job Congress is doing. Doesn’t this mean every individual congressperson should be replaced? No. It means Congress should start doing a better job. It doesn’t follow from the fact that Congress, as a collective, is unpopular that every person in it is bad at his or her job. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

I want a Congress full of people who come to the forum of Washington with their communities’ concerns in mind. I want them to exchange ideas for the betterment of the country in light of their particular concerns, and the concerns of their co-workers. I want people who are sensitive to needs of individuals and groups, are good listeners, good discussers, creative and smart thinkers and productive workers. If your record reflects this as an incumbent, I definitely want to hear about it. If it doesn’t, tough luck getting my vote. If you’re a newcomer who doesn’t plan on this kind of behavior, put down the microphone until you do.

Emelia Carroll ’13 carrolle@stolaf.edu is from Minneapolis, Minn. She majors in philosophy.

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