The problem America faces is not that government is dysfunctional—an election might fix that. It is that America is now governed by a New Political Class, divorced from the concerns of all save its richest constituents. The Class is bipartisan, with members of both parties strolling arm-in-arm into a future in which the privileges the Class has quietly arrogated to itself remain intact regardless of the results of any election.
Any doubt about that was dispelled by the recent disappearance of Lois Lerner’s e-mails. The head of the IRS, and agency willing to fine or have you imprisoned if you cannot produce seven years of data when requested by some auditor, with or without a showing of cause, saw no reason to apologize for the disappearance of the emails. Worse still, the Department of Justice, which would surely fit you for manacles if you destroyed evidence in anticipation of an investigation – that is, even before an investigation had been formally announced – sees no reason to move against the evidence destroyers at the IRS. The Justice Department protects the IRS, the IRS protects its employees – the worst sanction is vacation-with-pay, or “administrative leave” in the jargon of the new class – and elected representatives protect them all, in the case of Republicans by their inability to trade the television time accorded their inept questioning for a professional special prosecutor.
Then there is the little question of performance bonuses. It took General Motors a long time, including the years in which it was owned by the federal government, but it finally found some low- and mid-level employees who were culpable in the decision to remain silent rather than switch the faulty ignition switches, and fired them.
The powers-that-be at the Department of Veterans Affairs found some employees who have been falsifying records, and others who were merely so inefficient that veterans were denied the care to which they were entitled, and sent an executive to the Hill to justify the VA’s performance bonus system that awarded these employees tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses. Screw up in your job and you are lucky if you get off with a talking-to; screw up in a government job and you get a bonus. After all, by reprimanding doctors who asked nurses to help clean up an operating room so that they could increase the number of operations per day, the bonus recipients kept the unions from making the executives’ day a bit more difficult. If there is anything the political class abhors, it is a tiff with a public-sector union representative who is on full taxpayer funded salary even though she performs no duties other than those related to her union chores.
Move on to smoking. The D.C. Department of Behavioral Health – yes, there is such a thing, with an annual budget of $230,000,000 and 1,400 employees in a District too strapped for funds to protect its citizens adequately or educate its children – says, “The law makes it a violation of District law for any person to smoke in an area where it is prohibited. … It is also a violation for an employer, owner, manager, or person in authority to permit smoking in prohibited areas or to fail to post ‘No Smoking’ signs.” Prohibited areas include all places of employment and enclosed public spaces. “No Smoking” signs are available free of charge, but employers can be fined $500 if those signs are defaced.
Which brings us to the District’s primary employer, if you count all of its supplicants, the federal government. The speaker of the House, the ruler of the body that has passed the laws empowering regulators to come between ordinary citizens and the nicotine fix they crave (although federal laws banning marijuana are unenforced and unrepealed courtesy of the attorney general) has decided that his membership in the New Political Class entitles him to smoke in his office which, needless to say, is in a federal building in which such activity is banned. Try lighting up in the Capitol or any of the three House office buildings and see what happens to you. The laws are meant for you, not for the members of the political class that passes them. What applies to thee does not apply to me.
On to the question of interns, those young men and women who seek the work experience that adds to their qualifications for full-time jobs. Many interns earned no salary, but paid for their on-the-job education by doing chores for their employer-teacher. That path upward is no more for youngsters seeking internships at profit-making firms. The Department of Labor has ruled that profit-making firms (non-profit organizations are exempt) may not offer unpaid internships, at least that’s the net effect of a complicated set of rules. But the rules do not apply to Congress or, for that matter, to the Department of Labor, since they are sheltered by the non-profit exemption. To deprive Congress of its interns would be to deprive it of free labor – it is difficult to imagine a congressmen taking time off to add a serious educational component to an internship – and the opportunity to do a favor for a constituent with a teenager best kept out of the malls during the summer.
There’s more. Congressmen have a designated lot at which they park, free of charge, at Reagan airport, at a cost to the taxpayer of $100,000 for security guards and to other flyers who have to make up the $740,000 in lost revenues. Same deal at Dulles. When asked about this little perk, Senator Saxby Chambliss moaned, “It’s about the only thing we got left.” In addition to dedicated phones direct to airlines to make booking easier – no “Please wait while we serve other customers.” Don’t blame the airlines for catering to the legislators who control their fates. None dare call it a bribe.
Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute, puts it best, “Washington’s Permanent Political Class does not live and play by the same rules you and I do.” Think about that next time you want to smoke in your office, or are frantically trying to find receipts to meet the demands of an IRS auditor, or see a veteran ill-served by a generously bonused VA executive. We have met the enemy and they are them.