Shortcomings of the Constitution — Buying Life After Office

The Founders went to incredible lengths to avoid circumstances that would permit a dictator to arise, because they felt that a president would be tempted by the ability to control money and power and try to make himself a king. However, the view that the ultimate temptation of politicians is to attain permanent social power is a little too narrow, and it resulted in a miscalculation that needs to be remedied in the Constitution.

Without question they were inspired by exemplary citizenship demonstrated by the ancient leaders Solon and Cincinnatus, but inspiration by example and identification of principle are two entirely different things. On June 5th, Pierce Butler of SC bemoaned a point of contention saying, “We must follow the example of Solon who gave the Athenians not the best Government he could devise; but the best they would receive.” Obviously Butler had read his way through the first few chapters of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, but had Aristotle’s The Athenian Constitution been discovered before 1879, he might have kept his mouth shut; Plutarch didn’t summarize Aristotle correctly.

According to Aristotle—a good 300 years Plutarch’s senior— Solon’s highly praised republican system of checks and balances between rich and poor was effective precisely because the Athenians gave him full dictatorial control to write whatever he wanted. What made him great was, first, he gave the finger to the aristocrats and the masses who tried to bribe him for favor in the new constitution, and second, he made one single, reasonable request before he took the job: once I’m done writing this thing I’m getting the fuck out of here for a ten year vacation, and don’t come looking for me.

It was a pretty bright move considering how pissed off everyone was they didn’t get their way.

Cincinnatus was made dictator on two occasions to save Rome from military destruction. He was offered the position of dictator for life after finishing his handiwork, and both times he dropped the senatorial toga in a box and went back to his farm.

So you see, having a dictator isn’t necessarily a bad thing if they are Plato’s Philosopher King, and this is where the Founders fucked up the moral of those two stories a bit. What makes them exemplary citizens isn’t the fact that they did their duty and left, it’s what they didn’t do when they had power to make life easier after they left.

Solon could have written the same constitution but made a deal along the way to get his little hiatus funded. Cincinnatus’ probably would have been forgiven if he saved Rome, but used the intervening dictatorship to set up a cushy CEO job so he wasn’t trudging through literal bull shit. However, these are two people special enough that I’m talking about them over 2500 years later. Two words: Sarah Palin. Like the prize-winning racehorse dick she is, she’s making far more money now that she’s out of office and out to stud on FoxNews. The fact that life goes on after terms end is a gigantic loophole through which people can be easily corrupted.

I’m not implying that there wasn’t a hazy understanding of this by the Founding Fathers. Their initial idea was that Congresspersons were ineligible for reelection after their term expired for one year. Obviously it was taken out and term limits were rejected because the Founders didn’t think people would be happy if they couldn’t reelect Cincinnatus, but either way they entirely missed the point: it only addressed people who tried to extend their political lives through money, not their monetary lives through politics

Look at Boris Johnson, the MP in England who obnoxiously orchestrated the British exit from the EU. Just like Solon and Cincinnatus, he patriotically told everyone he wasn’t going to ride his “success” into office. Now this could be because he felt deep within his breast that he had done his civic duty like Cincinnatus and somehow a seat in Parliament and a plow are analogous in his tiny mind, or it could be that he figured the next PM was guaranteed to get flayed alive like Solon for pissing everyone off while trying to fix things, and sitting in Parliament waiting to take the national reins in better times is analogous to Solon leaving the country for a decade.

I don’t know exactly which one it is, but I’m damn near positive that even if Boris Johnson is booted to the political curb tomorrow he’s still making a whole lot of money when he retires from civic life off of the corporate nobs he greased who stand to make a fortune from Brexit.

So what am I proposing? Something like this: after the president leaves office, for half the amount of time they were in office they may not accept a job or position on the board of any entity, receive financial compensation for services rendered, purchase or claim dividends from stocks or other monetary instruments, and they may not receive payment of any kind for appearances and lecturing except perhaps at universities; businesses or other personal interests created before entering office excepted, provided that no government contracts are involved.

That is not the text of an amendment by the way, it’s a starting place for discussion in convention. However, I think the point is made. If you serve for four years, you’d better stash that $1.6 million away in a sock, because for the next two years you’re going to be living off it while on enforced economic vacation.

What’s that? This is a free country and we can’t infringe on a citizen’s liberty like that? Oh hell yes we can. The president accepts their office under the terms given themby “We the People…”, and if that means being elected to a six-year term, two of which are served after you leave office in a really nice little house fifteen minutes’ walk from the coast in Seal Beach, CA, then take an extra second and think about why you want the job. Since we cannot ensure we will always—or almost ever—get Solon or Cincinnatus, we can at least decide they’re checking out of the corporate hotel for a while, and may spend the next few years de-stressing by sipping Tequila Sunrises on the beach, pondering whether a few years of unperturbed silence wasn’t the worst idea anyway.