House of Privilege

Washington State just sent a powerful message to that other Washington, in the District of Columbia. The state voted to impose term limits on their representatives in local, state, and federal governments.   And none too soon. Term limitation is a key step to restore the original model of the American Founders: a model of government by citizen-legislators--people who step into government for a time, and then return to their plows and worksheds.   People who understand the concerns of ordinary citizens because they are ordinary citizens.   How far we've moved from that original model! What we have now are career politicians, enjoying special perks and privileges.   You've all heard about the House bank--the one where members of Congress had vastly overdrawn accounts. For ordinary folks, that would mean penalties to pay and ruined credit ratings. But this bank issued no penalties, no credit reports.   Then we heard about some $300,000 dollars worth of unpaid bills at the House restaurant. If we tried that, we'd be washing piles of dishes.   Then we learned that the House essentially tore up any parking tickets members got around the capitol. Something we've all been tempted do to--but don't.   Stationary stores sell to Congress at cost--items like cameras, crystal candlesticks, china vases. Not exactly your typical office supplies.   And outside the Capitol, the National Park Service maintains several lovely vacation lodges for government officials. Needless to say, the lodges are not open to the public.   Time magazine says it's reminiscent of the Soviet Union before the collapse of communism. Not a bad analogy. When I visited Russia before the revolution, we saw ordinary people waiting in long lines to buy wrinkled vegetables and tough black bread.   But at the airport, we were ushered into a plush VIP lounge for government officials, where everything was luxurious and prices ludicrously low. One of the officials purchased bags of lemons, pastries, cookies, candy--products severely rationed for ordinary people. But for him, the cost was a mere 60 cents.   Yes, the Soviet ruling class had its own well-stocked stores, its vacation lodges, its luxury apartments. Life was good. They just couldn't understand why ordinary people were so unhappy.   Our own system of government privilege is far less extreme, of course. But it subtly creates the same outlook. Members of Congress were taken aback by the public outcry over their special privileges. They just couldn't understand why ordinary people were so unhappy.   "Public servant" shouldn't be just a phrase. Our public leaders should make it their goal to serve, not to be served.   It was Jesus Who gave us the classic paradigm of representative government: leaving behind the privileges of deity and becoming a human being, so He could minister to human beings.   A true representative shares the conditions of the people so he can understand their views and concerns.   In the wake of the recent public outcry, Congress is scrambling to close the House bank and to stop some of the more blatant privileges. But the real solution may well be term limits: Send them home before they develop the privileged-class mentality.   Washington State has it right. If other states follow, someday we may bring back truly representative government.


Chuck Colson



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