Sometimes our political system seems beyond repair.
The problem isn't that it can't be fixed, but that neither party has enough courageous leaders willing to tackle that politically risky job.
Chauncey Goss, who just lost a local congressional primary here and has a right to be discouraged, is an antidote to despair. He says he is optimistic. In his opinion, if a problem can be diagnosed, it can be solved.
Few Americans know more than Goss about how our government solves, flubs or ducks its budgetary and fiscal crises. After earning a master's degree in public policy at Georgetown University, and while watching his dad, Porter Goss, serve in Congress for many years and then take over the CIA during George W. Bush's presidency, Goss became a senior staffer in the White House Office of Management and Budget and then became staff director of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's House of Representatives Budget Committee.
He says that two of his former bosses, Rep. Ryan and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who headed the Office of Management and Budget before he returned to his home state to run for governor, are two of the few political leaders who have the vision and courage to fix government. Ryan is the vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party. Daniels, who decided not to run for president, will become president of Purdue University when his second term as governor ends at the end of the year. According to Goss, Ryan, from a Democratic congressional district in Wisconsin, "took brutal stances" from a Democratic point of view, but he was able to explain himself to his constituents.
Goss respects the leadership qualities of a few other leaders in Congress as well — and not all are on the right side of the aisle. Several are on the left. For example, he singles out longtime U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House and the polar opposite of Chauncey Goss on most major issues. "Steny gets Congress," Chauncey says. "We disagree on political views, but he is not afraid to debate an issue and then vote. I like his intellect, and I love that he loves the institution of the House of Representatives. We never want to take politics out of politics."
Another congressman who gets high praise from Goss is U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-TX, for having the courage to effect change.
Optimistic or not, some of Goss' cogent inside observations and reflections present a challenging "to do" list.n "Congress does not have enough smart people who will put country above their re-election."n "Washington is incrementally focused — do everything you can for the short-term gain. Ruffle as few feathers as possible because you always are running for re-election."
n "Congress has a spending culture — everything is geared to spending. The best committee assignments are related to spending. Sometimes it seems that it's all about how much they can give away."
n "Congress sets deadlines but you can't legislate spine. There is always a way around it."
n "Congress needs courage and courage comes from leadership. We don't have enough of that on either side. Leaders must have vision. Leaders are few and far between. Most members of Congress are not stupid, but they've got to be there for the right reason."
n "I've observed that the more somebody wants the job (to be a member of Congress), the more voters ought to be suspicious. The best qualified candidates are the ones who don't want the job but want the job done."
Chauncey Goss' solution? He would favor a constitutional amendment to elect U.S. representatives for staggered four-year terms, with half of the House running every two years. Representatives now serve two-year terms. He also would set term limits on House members. They could serve only 12 consecutive years. Senators would be limited to two consecutive six-year terms. And, the president would serve only one six-year term.
Goss knows that ratifying such an amendment is a very long shot and is not on anyone's radar today. So, for now, it's up to voters to become more engaged. While running for Congress this summer, Goss learned how hard that citizen engagement is to encourage. He and his team knocked on 11,000 doors. "It becomes a question of how to reach the people who aren't paying attention and don't want to pay attention," he explained.
We all have our work cut out for us. Like Chauncey Goss, I'm trying to be optimistic.