Better the devil you know…

As Congress resumes session, the season of dethronement is upon us.

On Feb. 2, the Republican House conference will elect a new majority leader to replace Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who is bedraggled with indictments and scandal. The race has boiled down to a face-off between Majority Whip (and acting Leader) Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee. Additionally, Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz. – whom you’ve never, ever heard of – is busily pandering to every state legislator he can get his hands on, trying to rally support for his own contention for the leadership slot.

Although neither Blunt nor Boehner can compare to the half-century tenure of Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the fact that the contest falls to these two representatives – Blunt with four terms under his belt and Boehner with seven – begs the question: Should the GOP consider passing over its senior members in order to select a leader from a generation not yet batter-dipped in scandal? Smarter men than me have been tossing this very idea around for weeks now.

As majority whip, Blunt is practically inseparable from DeLay, who is now synonymous with indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose monetary lipstick is now known to be on the collars of more than 80 Republican members of Congress and political action committees. Similarly, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Boehner has received some $32,000 in Abramoff-scented funds over the years.

Are you seriously telling me that we cannot do better than this? Even dark horse Shadegg just “charitably” dumped $6,900 because of Abramoff’s curse. OK, look: Let’s get all the congressional pages together. These kids at least have to pass a background investigation and drug screen to get their jobs, so we may have a shot there.

Ultimately, however, I find it unrealistic to expect the GOP to wildly diverge from its natural inclination, which is to “keep it in the family” and clench its teeth through the mid-term elections, assuming that most of its mainstay voters would sooner die than vote Democrat, no matter how high this most recent stench rises. Given the universal preference of “the devil you know,” I imagine the GOP is correct.

The problem of “money” in politics – the real problem – is not limited to strictly illegal aspects. It also distorts the essential democratic principle that our government should be “of, by and for” the people. Consider that among the 535 federal legislators, roughly a third of them are millionaires. This is in a country with a median income, according to the 2004 U.S. Census, of around $45,000, and in which approximately 2.5 million people – less than 1 percent of the population – are millionaires.

So if our government is neither “of” nor “by” the vast majority of the people, in the economic sense, then to what degree do you suppose it is “for” the people? I can’t believe that the same sort of asinine, fates-to-the-wind approach that has thus far dominated Medicare/Medicaid reform legislation would fly if anyone voting on it might conceivably need to depend on it in their own sunset years. The same goes for the Social Security crapshoot: Given the assured comfort of our legislators’ own retirements, to what degree can we expect them to engineer a genuinely better safety net? As it is, they seem to approach it as what it inevitably is to their own pocketbooks: a tax nuisance.

Admittedly, this may be approaching sour grapes. I’m unlikely to break into the ruling class anytime this year, and the fact that none of my congressmen have personal histories mirroring my own may be causing some bias. But of any officials who happen to list me among their constituents, I can’t fathom one who literally represents my actual interests.

Without turning this into one of the megalomaniacal diary entries columnists are known for, suffice it to say I do not earn upwards of $250,000 a year, I do not own controlling stock in any corporation and do not hold sway over any significant portion of my community. I am not particularly susceptible to any of the “moral issues” pleas, and hence do not appear on any relevant cold-call lists. In short, I am on no one’s radar – with the possible exception of the National Security Agency, whose agents I have probably been boring to death with my once-a-month phone call to my Nana in Zurich.

Anyway, my point is that I am so unconnected as to be not even worth pandering to. And I am not alone.

The Russ Feingolds, John Conyerses and John McCains of the legislature twinkle like satellites in the ether, offering an occasional glimpse of integrity, ingenuity and possibility; but they are far beyond my voting district, and the best I can offer them is a meager contribution. Here at home, when the ballot box wheels around this November, it will most likely be another case of the devil I know.

Ryan McGeeney is a senior majoring in political science.