Opinion

NATELSON: Democrats Show The Need For More Real-World Experience In Congress

REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

Robert Natelson Senior Fellow, Independence Institute

President Trump says the tax code encouraged real estate developers like him to take paper tax losses. I know from my private sector real estate background that the president’s response is so clearly true it merits a “Well, DUH!” But many leading Democratic Party officeholders utterly lack that kind of experience.

The American founders understood that close ties in knowledge, values, and sentiment between officials and citizens are crucial to republican government. They called those ties sympathy. (Today we would say “empathy.”) The founders observed that government is a public trust, and that trusts do not operate well if there are conflicts of interest between the trustees (office holders) and the beneficiaries (the public). Office holders are most likely to act in “sympathy” with the public only if they are molded by similar value systems and life experiences.

Now consider the biographies of leading Democrats:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was raised the daughter of a Democratic politician. Her rigid ideology was crystallized early. Washington, D.C.’s liberal Trinity College would have reinforced her ideological inclinations. After graduation, she worked in Democratic Party politics and became a member of the Democratic National Committee. For 32 years, Pelosi has represented a safe Democratic district. She has no business or other private sector background.

The biography of Pelosi’s House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) is similarly void of a private sector career. He has represented a safe district in Congress for 26 years.

Like Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) grew up largely insulated from ideological challenge. Raised in liberal New York City, he spent both his undergraduate and law school years at a liberal East Coast university (Harvard), where the few conservatives are curiosities. While in college Schumer worked for the liberal insurgency of Eugene McCarthy (1968). Since graduating law school, Schumer has had no career other than political office. Shortly after graduation he entered the New York State legislature. In 1981 he moved to Congress and has remained there for the last 38 years.

Also like Schumer, Assistant Senate Minority leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) received both his bachelor’s and law degrees from a liberal East Coast university (Georgetown). Thus, like Pelosi, his formative college years were spent in Washington, D.C. After graduation, Durbin took a state job. In 1982 he entered Congress, and for 37 years Congress has been his sole career. Durbin’s reported private sector involvement is a part-time job in high school.

Like Schumer, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y) was raised in the New York City petri dish, growing up in a strongly Democratic family. But while Schumer entered the state legislature right after law school, Nadler entered it even before graduating from law school. Nadler has had no career but politics. He has been in Congress for more than a quarter of a century, ensconced in a safe Democratic district.

Let’s step outside Congress: The last Democratic president, Barack Obama, had only minimal private sector experience. After graduating from a yet another liberal East Coast college (Columbia) and a liberal East Coast law school (Harvard, again), Obama engaged in “community organizing”—a polite term for local political agitation. He was also a part-time law instructor in the academic terrarium. In 1997, he entered the Illinois state legislature. For the next 20 years until he left the presidency, politics was his sole career.

The previous Democratic president, Bill Clinton, received both his undergraduate and law degrees from liberal East Coast institutions (Georgetown, Yale), where he was a liberal activist. After law school, he became a state-employed law professor and immediately began running for office. From 1979 to 1981 and again from 1983 until the end of his presidency in 2001 he was continually in political office. There was no time for him to learn how the rest of us live.

Note the gaps in the biographies of all these people: A youthful disposition toward liberal ideology. No significant challenge to that ideology. No experience in small or entrepreneurial business either as an employer or employee, nor even in local government. Long, unbroken tenure in political office.

People with such parochial backgrounds cannot provide fully-informed leadership. On the contrary, their ideology-soaked ignorance can make existing problems worse, as the Obamacare fiasco demonstrates.

Curing this situation will require a number of reforms. Congressional term limits would be a good first step.

Rob Natelson has divided his professional life between the private for-profit sector, the private non-profit sector, and state and local government. A former law professor and nationally known constitutional scholar, he is currently a self-employed consultant who serves as senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence at the Independence Institute in Denver.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.