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Why Kicking the Bums Out is Not that Easy


George Will takes a look at why it’s so hard to beat incumbents in Congress. He says the system has been rigged with breakwaters to hold incumbents in power.

The breakwater has three componentsâ€â€?gerrymandering, campaign-finance “reforms” and the particular form of profligacy known as earmarks. In state after state, redistricting after the 2000 Census proved that bipartisanshipâ€â€?ritually praised, rarely practicedâ€â€?is often overrated. Democrats and Republicans collaborated in drawing congressional districts that would protect incumbents of both parties. Campaign-finance “reforms,” which make raising money more difficult, are written by incumbents and work to the advantage of… well, take a wild guess. Here is a hint: In the last two election cycles, 98 percent of incumbents seeking re-election won. The explosive and utterly bipartisan growth of earmarksâ€â€?federal spending directed by individual legislators to specific projectsâ€â€?is yet another advantage incumbents have as they toil to get rid of that offensive 2 percent.

I often hear people say they want to “kick the bums out,� but what I think they really mean is they want you to kick your bum out. Their bum is bringing home the pork and, besides, he’s running against an even bigger bum.

The bum-protection program has been one of the only truly bipartisan achievements of the last decade or so. Both parties have agreed they really like power and should be allowed to hold onto it with a minimal amount of hassle. Thus, most congressmen and women are in safe districts so overwhelmingly Democrat or Republican that only a political tsunami could break apart the status-quo.

Even then, challengers must overcome strict fund-raising regulations that make it inordinately difficult to raise a competitive level of funds. These regulations have often been born of good intentions but the effect has been to choke off the money from challengers who do not have the same resources or networks that are available to incumbents.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing inherently wrong with incumbency. But there is something wrong with a lack of choice. And that’s what we have. Too many of us live in districts where a reasonable alternative is not available. Incumbents like it that way, but we don’t have to accept it. We can and should demand reform. Kicking the bums out shouldn’t be so difficult.