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Another "Modest Proposal"

Being a Memoradum From Dean Jonathan Swift

To Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott

As Channeled By By Jock O'Connell

Honorable sir, I have the utmost pleasure of addressing you on the subject of electoral reform in your country. I trust you will not regard this missive as the gratuitous meddling of a foreigner in the domestic affairs of your nation. Rather, my hope is you will see it as fit recompense for the noble favor recently visited upon my impossibly fractious Irish descendants by your esteemed, if ponderous, former colleague -- Mr. George Mitchell of Maine.

Let me immediately turn to what I observe to be the principal cause of the most disgraceful aspects of your political system in America --- the fact that you persist in the hideously passť practice of holding elections.

To save your system of representative government from a legion of widely lamented curses, I propose that you very simply abolish elections!

Only the meager few among you who actually vote would likely object. By contrast, the great majority of your countrymen would celebrate you for ridding them of innumerable annoyances, indignities, and affronts.

My modest but bold proposal is in stark contrast to your rather pathetic gestures at enhancing your system of representative government, especially those measures affecting term limits and campaign finances.

The former, I am reliably informed, is intended to deny political life everlasting to your duly elected leaders, irrespective of the actual wishes of their constituents. Alas, this bromide has evidently resurrected more banshees than were put to rest. Far from periodically cleansing your elective bodies, term limits have given rise to an eerie transmigration of souls to other, usually more elevated offices where presumably greater damage can be inflicted.

I am likewise baffled by your ambiguous gestures toward campaign finance reform. As I comprehend it, your own thinking, my dear Lott, is entirely consistent with the singularly American notion that the act of tendering largess to politicians, far from constituting prima facie evidence of bribery, is instead an expression of free speech. This being the case, you would afford such inducements and subversions the full protection of the First Amendment to your sublime Constitution.

As a man of letters, I am naturally chagrined at how our common language is being repeatedly abused by your colonial tongue. Free speech, my dear Lott? Preposterous. Friends who have returned of late from your shores regale me with accounts of the staggering cost of standing for a seat in even one of your larger provincial assemblies. In New York and California the price of a seat reportedly can easily exceed $250,000. Surely, Lott, even one of your majestic intellect can appreciate that speech that expensive can hardly be regarded as free.

I beg you to give ample consideration to the many virtues of abolishing elections outright. Without elections, there would be no feckless candidates and no political campaigns insinuating themselves into private homes and businesses in the quest for votes and donations. Gone would be the noisome barrages of political advertisements crowding out the truly entertaining commercials during television and radio broadcasts. A fatal blow would likewise be struck at that alchemist's cabal of political pundits and editorialists who now conspire to render tedious and utterly predictable that which should be inherently dramatic and compelling.

Above all, Lott, you would spare your citizens the guilt of not following of parade of issues and candidates. Instead, you would give them the greatest freedom of all --- the freedom to pursue their private lives blissfully ignorant of public affairs!

Now let me anticipate your concerns. You will want to know how to parry the objections of skeptics who will doubtless complain that Representative Government is not something with which to trifle.

Blunt their attacks, Lott, by requiring them to demonstrate what Representative Government and the holding of elections have to do with each other. As your legislative bodies have so richly demonstrated over the years, elections have exceedingly little to do with representing the public's interest. Indeed, for much of your history, the majority of Americans have gone unrepresented in your legislatures and councils.

Fortunately, you Americans have devised the perfect alternative to elections as a means of choosing real people to conduct the people's business.

I speak of course of your Power Ball Lottery, my dear Lott.

And as a means for galvanizing the citizenry's attention, it is an alternative against which mere elections pale.

In the place of a dreadful Election Day, you would hold a festive Selection Day. Instead of enduring the expense, audacity, and civic outrages of the seemingly endless electoral process, you would on a single day populate all of your government institutions from Congress down to local councils with citizens picked completely at random from the most comprehensive of all listings of Americans both living and recently demised - those assured of being Grand Prize Finalists in the next Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.

If chosen, a citizen would be obliged to serve a term of perhaps seven years in office. No one would be excused. Those insistent on foregoing public service in Washington, D.C. or Albany or Sacramento would serve out their terms in accommodations provided at institutions like Leavenworth, Attica or Folsom.

Befitting a lottery, ample material rewards would also go to those selected. If only to militate against corruption, I suggest the chosen receive a million dollars a year while in office, a generous pension, and non-HMO health care for life.

But you ask: Who are these people? What qualifies them for public office? Well, Lott, gaze about you. Who are the people now in office? What other than an ample dose of panache and arrogance qualifies them for public service?

I dare say my proposal would provide for a much more representative government than you have now. People from all walks of life, age groups, genders, ethnic backgrounds, religious and moral persuasions, quirks, predispositions, and physical appearance. Your Republican ideals would be reborn!

So there you have it. The only way to preserve what integrity the political process still has in it, you would have to destroy it --- a solution, you must agree, that is consistent with your proud American traditions and customs. That is my (latest) modest proposal. Make of it what you will.

Best wishes to your wife, Lott.

I remain your obedient servant, Jonathan Swift

Copyright © 1998 By J. A. O'Connell