If more of our elected officials did their own taxes, pumped their own gas (no official office travel budgets or reimbursement), flew commercial and got to enjoy TSA pat-downs, waited on line at the post office to mail their own packages, had to wait on line at the DMV, and so on, would they have the same views and support the same policies?
When the president, most members of Congress, and most members of the cabinet debate a policy, most of the time they’re discussing something that is entirely theoretical to them. They’ll never have to deal directly with the federal policy they’re discussing, and the consequences of the policy will have no impact on the quality of their life whatsoever.
Most of them live a life completely different from ours. Many of them have chauffeurs or staffers to drive them around. Their travel expenses, including gas, are covered or are reimbursed by their office. They’re too busy to wait on line in places like the post office, the DMV, or other offices of government bureaucracy, so they have staffers do that where possible. At a high enough level, they have personal security, so the threat of violent crime is entirely theoretical to them. (How many politicians who support gun control travel with armed security guards?) They have their career path set ahead of them; they’re not attempting to launch a small business. If they did, they would just hire someone to deal with all of the paperwork and regulations.
They make a salary that is astronomical for the average American: $174,000 for most members of the House and Senate, $199,700 for cabinet members, $223,500 for the Speaker of the House, $230,700 for the vice president, $400,000 for the president. They receive generous pensions. Their careers after leaving office include many lucrative opportunities in academia, publishing, media, and lobbying.
For those at the highest level of our government, the process of passing laws is not too different from playing “The Sims” or some other game. They make the changes and observe how others react; they themselves are distanced and cushioned from the actual impact of the laws.
I was reminded of a closing passage in Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes:
The White House is the thickest and shiniest bubble of all.
It’s not just that we can’t see him. From the White House, he can’t see anything outside. Why didn’t [George H. W.] Bush get it?
Well, the White House was running like a top! Everyone who walked into his office had a wonderful job — and were excited by the swell things they were doing for the country and its people. Every microphone over which he peered had a thousand faces upturned to his, ready to cheer his every applause line. If he left Washington, every tarmac on which Air Force One touched down had a line of prosperous people in suits, to pump Bush’s hand and tell him things were, we were, he was . . . great!
Sometimes our elected officials do a poor job of showcasing their relief that they don’t have to interact with the federal government the way that we do.