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Accountability of Elected Officials

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Accountability from Elected Officials When it comes to political discussions, whether they be arguments or a one sided slurry of words that most people don’t want to hear it. As we all know a presidential race just ended with Obama being re-elected and with that comes another onslaught of jabs and pokes at the job he may or may not accomplish while in office. Throughout history there have always been people for and against the president and there always will be. Republicans and democrats never get along and most of them have incredibly varying opinions on where the government should be heading. With this in mind, have you ever thought about what happens to the elected officials, not just presidents, who spend donated money to get elected and during their tenure in office do nothing to help the very people that elected them into office to begin with? There are studies upon studies that are posted all over the internet that show how horrible of a job most of our presidents have done while in office. At the same time there are tens of thousands of elected officials across the United States who go unnoticed if they do horribly, and most the time return to their normal life after their term is done and think nothing of it ever again. The lack of consequences for people not doing their job they were voted in to do is wrong. When it comes to accountability of officials from any level of government, especially ones that are voted in, need to be held accountable for their actions to provide a better future for us all. The role of an elected official, no matter on what scale of position he/she are elected into, is to do what is best for the people that voted them into office. As citizens of the USA, we all should have the same goals in mind as everyone else, prosperity and success for years to come. Many articles say there is accountability in the fact that if you do not do your job as an elected official you are not re-elected the following vote(Jones, 2011) How does this hold them accountable for not doing their job? They still got a salary for however long their term was based on votes they received from the public who were expecting them to make positive changes. What do the people receive for an official failing to do his/her job? Nothing, the official gets to walk away and take that last tenure in office and try to use it as a stepping stone into a bigger and better position. What kind of accountability is that? When it comes to higher ranking officials, i.e. Congressional representatives and members of the Senate, they have to take their ideological views and put them on display for the rest of the body to pick apart and/or praise. This is another bottle neck for accountability, the certain elected official can try extremely and get the exact opposite outcome they would like to see happen. The final vote may not go their way which makes it appear that they did not do their job. This say on accountability depends on whether the cup is half full or half empty. If the cup is half full, the official could be looked at as he/she tried and be ok with it, but a half empty kind of person would see that the overall goal was not achieved and hold their official accountable and do not re-elect them. This aspect of accountability is also flawed. The reasoning behind this aspect of accountability is that the people’s voice will be heard the next election whether they re-elect the official or not.(Jones, 2011) They may not get their job back, but while in office they still took taxpayers’ dollars as a salary and did nothing with it. Most people vote for the person they want in Congress because they hold the same values as when it comes to public funding as far as education and children’s programs (i.e. YMCA’s, after school programs). The Congress official puts up half a fight for these but easily backs away because they do not want to have their fellow Congress people view them differently because they wanted to vote for something opposite the rest of the group. Who holds them accountable when he does not fight for what they want and what they feel is right for society? Too many people are worried about how they appear to the rest of the world. Why would you not want to stand out and be the person that wants to fight for changes that are desperately needed in parts of the country? Most people have a conscience and that conscience guides them to do what they feel as right for the country as a whole. If more people just followed this internal guide they have there would be less accountability to ask for. Another problem we come across more frequently than we probably even know is elected officials only doing what is necessary every term so they can be re-elected the following election period. If elected officials are “single minded seekers of reelection” (Mayhew, 1974), then major goals and accomplishments that will move us forward are never going to be accomplished. Why just want to be re-elected? It takes just five years as a federally elected official to receive a pension after office. Modest it may be, but it is much more than the normal federal employee’s pension plan gives out. The President of the United States, no matter how bad he does in office unless he gets impeached, receives almost $200,000/year for the rest of his/her life after office. This is just the tip of the benefits they receive after office. They have access to Secret Service protection for up to ten years after leaving office; they receive extra stipends from the government for staff and travel expenses if they make appearances as an Ambassador for the US, free treatment at military hospitals, and so on (Longley, 2012). All of these cost us, the tax payer, thousands of dollars which could be utilized elsewhere. Looking back at recent charts which show presidential approval ratings the majority of them are below 50 percent approval rating (Wikipedia, 2012). These figures single handedly show that we need more accountability all over when it comes to elected officials. Members of Congress, the majority of the time, vote on issues so that it makes them look the best to their constituents. A representative that Kingdon interviewed claimed that “a congressman can only afford two or three votes like that in a session. You get a string of them, then watch out (1989)”. James Fenno also quoted an anonymous politician in 1978 “If I voted against restrictive gun control legislation, I’d better not come home… and this is a very heavily Catholic district. A vote against aid to parochial schools might defeat me. That and gun control together would do it and either one separately might… Anyone who advocated busing would be ridden out of my district on a rail… Prayer in the schools is another one. If I get on the wrong side of any one big emotional issue, I’ll lose a whale of a lot of votes”. Quotes like this prove elected officials vote to be re-elected, because he/she are scared to make the wrong vote. Is there really a wrong vote if the outcome betters the lives of people as a whole? We can go back to the cup half empty half full people and say yes there is a wrong answer to some of them, but what they miss is the bigger picture. Representatives who routinely do what is best rather than what is wanted—no matter the economic or military outcomes that ensue—run the risk of being replaced by someone new (Jones, 2011). This quote from Philip Jones’ work should be the one more people base their decisions on. If what you vote for, as a member of Congress, is the best decision to make as a whole and the voters do not like it, then voters are self-serving and shouldn’t have him/her as their official to begin with. Accountability in a position of power should not be much to ask for. We as Americans, not elected officials, hold ourselves accountable for our actions every day. We don’t do something we are supposed to do and there are repercussions for it, it may be as little as not taking the trash out or raking the yard, but there is almost always something negative that comes from it. This is a much smaller scale than when it comes to governing officials, but if we are held accountable this often, why cannot the people who are supposed to be our voices be held as accountable when they should be? Governments that are truly accountable can more effectively prevent corruption, which involves the use of positions of power or privilege for personal enrichment (Democracy Web.) For this statement to hold its power, we all need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture when it comes to political races. Each potential candidate has something he/she can offer, but there will always be one who is more “for the people.” We need people in office who will hold themselves accountable for every decision they take part in. We need people who will fight for a better America as a whole.

References
Accountability and Transparency: Essential Principles (2012). Democracy Web. Retrieved from http://www.democracyweb.org/accountability/principles.php
Fenno, R (1978). Home Style: House Members in their Districts. Boston: Little, Brown.
Jones, P.(2011) Which Buck Stops Here? Accountability For Policy Positions And Policy Outcomes In Congress. Journal Of Politics,73.3, 764-782. Academic Search Elite. Web. 5 Nov. 2012.
Kingdon, John. (1989) Congressman’s Voting Decisions. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
Longley, R (2012) Presidential Retirement Benefits. US Government Info. Retrieved from http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/thepresidentandcabinet/a/presretirement.htm
Mayhew, David (1974) Congress: The Electoral Connection. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
Wikipedia, (2012). United States Presidential Approval Rating. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_approval_rating

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