George Washington stressed throughout his life, in his letters and public addresses, the need for a moral and virtuous government. He feared that without the underlying principles of faith, the country would degenerate.
He stated, “I now make my earnest prayer, that God would have you and the state over which you preside in holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another; to love mercy, charity, and humility, which are characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation."
Washington believed that political parties were the start down the slippery slope of degeneration into tyranny and corruption.
"Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people. The general government . . . can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people."
Now, we have career politicians that serve their terms for well beyond what the founders ever envisioned. While it is true that the founders of this country were career politicians, they made a point to never stay in one office for too long.
For example, Alexander Hamilton served in the Revolutionary War, served as an advisor to President Washington, studied law at what is now Colombia University, wrote The Federalist Papers, practiced law in New York City, served as Inspector General under President John Adams, helped plan the building of Washington, D.C., worked on the Democratic-Republican, Thomas Jefferson’s presidential campaign before becoming a prolific journalistic and economic writer where he insulted Aaron Burr, culminating in a duel that Hamilton threw, resulting in his death at the age of 49.
Not many career politicians can boast such a resume today. The longest serving member of the New York State Assembly is Richard Gottfried, who was first elected in office since 1971. Gottfried was a law clerk and an attorney before being elected to the Assembly where he has been ever since.
The New York State legislature is only in session from January to June for the purpose of having citizen legislators. That is, legislators are expected to maintain their careers while serving in the legislature part time for a few terms. Unfortunately, many state legislators do not and have no need to maintain a second job.
That being said, is being a career politician a good choice for some people? Richard Gottfried has been in and continues to hold positions of substantial power in the Assembly and has extensive communications to special interest and advocacy groups as well as lobbyists in the health care industry. He uses his position as Chairman of the Health Committee to do what he believes is best for New York and for patients, providers and other players in the industry. He is more familiar with the legislation, the practices and policies than anyone else in Albany.
New York politics has become notorious for scandal. Just this past year, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had to answer for over $100,000 in payoffs of public money to settle suits of sexual harassment against Assemblyman Vito Lopez. Earlier, Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera was accused of paying her boyfriend for a no-show job working for her and Assemblyman William Boyland was charged with soliciting bribes to pay off legal bills accumulated in fighting off previous charges of bribery solicitation.
State Senator Shirley Huntley was also arrested for federal fraud, forgery and conspiracy charges to which she pled guilty. Senator Karl Kruger also was arrested for and pled guilty to corruption charges in 2011. Not to mention Eliot Spitzer’s prostitution scandal.
The argument can be made that these things were allowed to continue for so long before investigators caught on and began to build cases against these politicians because of party politics. Most notably, Speaker Silver’s signing off on the “quiet payoff” to Lopez’s sexual harassment victims. To this, Washington warned,
“The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.”