Ben Bova: What we need now are plain, honest members of Congress

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I get a lot of e-mail. I don’t Twitter or blog, but I receive plenty of messages on my Web site from friends, family, readers, even complete strangers.

Lots of my readers write to tell me what they think of my books. Mostly their messages are praising; some suggest new ideas they want me to write about. If I make a mistake in my writing, I am swiftly and surely told about it.

Over the past few weeks, many people have sent me messages about the political shambles in Washington, with suggestions on how to fix the mess.

One suggestion has been repeated often enough to make me think it’s becoming something of a grass-roots groundswell. Several e-mails have suggested a 28th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as follows:

“Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the senators and/or representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the senators and/or representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.”

It’s quite simple, really. Let the politicians who pass the laws of the land live under those laws. No special privileges. No “sweetheart” health-care plans that apply to the politicians but not to the rest of us. No pension plans that allow a politician to retire at full pay after just one term in office.

What’s sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander.

I think it’s a good idea. But it hasn’t got as much of a chance as a snowball in a blast furnace, because those very same senators and representatives would have to vote in favor of it to get such an amendment passed.

Don’t hold your breath.

Yet it wasn’t always this way.

For a look at what true leaders can accomplish, read “Plain, Honest Men” by Richard R. Beeman. This is a meticulous account of the writing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

To me, that was the real American Revolution. The Revolutionary War drove the British out of the 13 colonies. But it was the Constitution that created a new form of government, the bulwark of our freedom, the foundation on which this great nation has been built.

It was something really revolutionary: creating a central government strong enough to hold the nation together while still preserving the liberties of the citizens in the various states. And all of it depending on the consent of the citizens, the voters.

The book’s title comes from a statement by Gouverneur Morris, a delegate from Pennsylvania to the Constitutional Convention. Commenting on the Constitution, he said:

“While some have boasted it as a work from Heaven, others have given it a less righteous origin. I have many reasons to believe that it is the work of plain, honest men.”

The plain, honest men who hammered out the Constitution were just as divided in their loyalties and opinions as today’s members of Congress. Especially over the issue of slavery; they almost came to blows. But they weren’t politicians. They were men who were voluntarily serving the public interest for a time, not lifetime political hacks. And they had a goal much more important than party politics: the survival of the United States of America.

It seems to me that today’s morass in Washington has been created by people who are lifetime professional politicians, more interested in scoring political points against the opposing party than in solving the nation’s problems. Getting re-elected is their primary aim: health-care reform, homeland defense and energy shortages run a far-distant second to that all-important goal.

A 28th amendment might help to set things right. So would an amendment mandating term limits. But the ultimate power is at the ballot box. Vote the rascals out in November if you’re unhappy with them. And make the new members of Congress understand that they can be booted out, too, unless they perform properly.

“Plain, Honest Men” is a fascinating book. It shows how free men can achieve greatness — when their eyes are lifted beyond partisan squabbles.

Bova, a Naples resident, is the author of more than 120 books, including “Able One,” a political thriller. Bova’s Web site address is www.benbova.com

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