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In Washington, working folk need not apply

By Michael M. Bates
web posted April 18, 2005

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is in hot water with the Senate ethics committee. A physician, his outrageous impropriety is providing medical care to pregnant ladies and other patients and delivering babies.

Sen. Tom Coburn

It isn't as though Dr. Coburn is making obscene profits. In fact, he makes no profit. He charges only enough to run his office and pay for malpractice insurance. That makes no difference. The ethics committee has ordered him to shut down his practice in Muskogee by the end of September.

For years, Senate rules have prohibited members from working in a number of professions. Thus, the argument is the doctor knew what he was letting himself in for when he ran for office. He shouldn't have expected an exemption. OK, so it's been against the rules to be a practicing physician. That doesn't mean it should stay that way.

At one time, serving as a citizen legislator was considered preferable to being a career politician whose principal aspiration in life is to stay in office.

Roger Sherman signed the Declaration of Independence and was an early member of Congress. He believed, "Representatives ought to return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of government, they would acquire the habits of the place, which might differ from those of their constituents."

Dr. Coburn is following in that tradition. Recently he said on FoxNews: "Because the thing we miss in Washington is a connection with what's really happening at home. And to be a physician and a relationship with patients where you can see the hurt, the success, the problems, the complications, of everyday life in America. . ."

It isn't as if the people who elected the doctor last fall were under the impression he was giving up his practice if he won. During the campaign he repeatedly affirmed his intent to keep providing medical care.

I think an occasional dose of the real world might prove beneficial for our supposed servants in Washington. They spend much of their time mixing with lobbyists, staffers, fat cat political contributors and, of course, each other.

The level of sycophancy and deference must be deafening. Little wonder these characters actually begin believing their own press releases and view themselves as indispensable to the Republic.

Certainly an argument against congress critters moonlighting is that their workload is already so overwhelming that they simply couldn't fit anything else in their schedules. Members have admitted they don't have time to read the legislation that's proposed. Often, neither do their staffers. Some bills have passed Congress without a copy printed for anyone to see.

Since they're not reading the darn things anyway, what difference does it make if they occupy themselves by doing something worthwhile? The less time they spend in Washington could benefit beleaguered taxpayers. The fewer "essential human services" Congress bestows on special interests, the fewer dollars will be tossed down the proverbial rathole.

Maybe, just maybe, members of Congress would stop interfering in virtually every aspect of our lives. Do we really need federal laws mandating how big toilets are?

Working as a doctor shouldn't be against the rules. Working almost any other job, as long as there isn't a conflict of interest, should be encouraged as a way to keep our representatives aware of how 99.9 per cent of Americans live.

Currently under siege is House majority leader Tom DeLay. He's often disparaged because at one time he ran a pest control business. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, always on the cutting edge with the latest in knee slappers, last month unveiled the Web site "Cockroach Corner" to poke fun at him (The site has since been removed - ed).

I believe there's an element of snobbishness in some of the attacks on Mr. DeLay. The common sense of an average person is needed in Congress. Instead of electing lawyers — usually around 40 percent of members are attorneys — it would be better to have folks with more diverse backgrounds. They could bring with them a sense of proportion, real world experience and an ability to identify with average Americans.

We've seen what career politicians have done. Let's give citizen legislators a try. And if they want to escape the lobbyists, staffers, fat cat political contributors and each other by spending time at their chosen occupation, let them.

Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths, which is available at Barnesandnoble.com, Booksamillion.com, Amazon.com or iUniverse.com and can be ordered through most bookstores. This essay appeared in the April 14, 2005 Oak Lawn (IL) Reporter.

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