On Leaving Office

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Elliott Abrams criticizes Senator Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R., Mo.), and other politicians who leave office before their term has expired to take other jobs.

It may well be that Ms. Emerson can do a lot of good at the Cooperative Association and that Mr. DeMint will serve the conservative cause well at Heritage. Nevertheless there is something deeply offensive about walking away from the job you so ardently sought from the voters. That act diminishes the significance of elections and indeed of representative democracy, for the citizen elevated to the legislature by his or her peers is saying the whole thing is just not very important. Certainly the two appear to feel no strong obligation to the voters, or to their district or state.

That was part of my initial reaction to the DeMint announcement, but I didn’t write it because I had a second thought. Which was: Nobody criticizes office-holders who leave office to take other offices: say, the senator who joins the Cabinet, who is abandoning the voters of his state to serve in another way. So why should we criticize the official who leaves for the private sector, unless we believe that public-sector work is by its nature more of a service to the public than private-sector work? And I don’t see why we should believe that.

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