Congress needs an engineering mindset.
Turning 40 was a minor milestone; itís the beginning, more or less, of middle age, but with young kids and a busy career I had neither time nor interest in reflecting on the passing years. 50 was easy; I joked about becoming genetically irrelevant, and in that decade found myself enjoying being a spectator to the younger generation taking their place, starting families, and participating in the amazing parade of life. 60, a couple of years ago, was a shock. My wifeís mother died at 62; my grandmother at 60, too many other family members and friends never made it to that marker. My 24 year old daughter amusingly laments her advanced age, but itís increasingly impossible to ignore the advance of years.
Over time one perceives patterns in life. A remarkable pattern is that of the political process, never more apparent than now. Generally, two years ahead of a presidential election, the likely candidates are far from obvious. Yet today weíre faced with the almost inevitable succession of one or another dynasty to the White House. New thinking in a time of growing problems isnít going to happen. Sure, itís possible that one or another of the long-shot candidates could surprise us all.
But, after a lifetime watching politics, I doubt it.
The pattern persists in Congress, where incumbents are, it sometimes seems, elected for life. The senators in my state have been in Congress for almost 30 and 40 years respectively. 40 years! Thatís longer than the average life expectancy when the country was founded.
Many years ago I wrote a column about the country needing problem solvers in elected positions. Engineers. Weíre paid, not to debate issues, not to instill fear or hatred of the other party, but to make stuff work. If we donít, weíre fired. Itís a binary job. Just what youíd think the country needs. Readers mostly disagreed, pointing out that, for instance, one engineer president wasnít particularly effective. Others were cynical, figuring Congress is dysfunctional almost by design and that there was no interest in solving problems there. Controversy wins elections; the quiet person who gets things done is always unheralded and thus unelectable.
Itís hard to argue with that.
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