The essay "The Rise of the Washington Establishment" by Morris P. Fiorina is a deeply cynical, although troublingly realistic, look at the United States government's congressional establishment. According to Fiorina, the overriding motivation of politicians, bureaucrats, and voters concerning Congress is self-interest. He does, however, preface his remarks by stating...
The essay "The Rise of the Washington Establishment" by Morris P. Fiorina is a deeply cynical, although troublingly realistic, look at the United States government's congressional establishment. According to Fiorina, the overriding motivation of politicians, bureaucrats, and voters concerning Congress is self-interest. He does, however, preface his remarks by stating that he is offering nothing more than an unproven theory.
Fiorina opens by establishing what he terms his "cast of characters." By this he means the various groups that he will discuss in his essay. He summarizes how each of these groups promotes their own welfare through the congressional system. The congressmen themselves, for instance, enjoy their high salaries, additional perks, prestige, and power. For these reasons, their overriding motivation and what propels them in their decision-making is reelection. Whether their goals are oriented toward selfish acquisition or assisting the public, reelection is foremost in their minds. Bureaucrats are concerned with preserving and protecting their agencies. Voters want benefits from the government at the least personal cost.
If congressmen are mainly concerned with reelection, argues Fiorina, they will first favor legislation that benefits their own districts. Afterward, they may or may not consider the welfare of the country. Federal projects are promptly considered only inasmuch as they can bring financial or social gain to their own constituencies. Other bills for the general good may languish indefinitely in committees. Another area to which congressmen give attention is the specific favors of constituents, because the requesters may become valuable allies.
Bureaucrats are dependent upon congressmen for appropriations to fund and expand their agencies. In fact, congressmen have the power to enhance or destroy agencies through budget improvements or cuts. In turn, bureaucrats are forced to listen when congressmen call and ask favors.
For congressmen, taking stands on legislation is sometimes controversial, while pushing for federal projects in their districts is safer. Individual assistance to constituents is safest of all. Those who have been helped feel indebted to the congressmen. News of favors spreads and embellishes the congressmen's reputations.
With reelection in mind, the passing of important legislation is not as important as local district financial gains and personal favors to constituents. All of this serves to promulgate a system that is overwhelmingly concerned with the self-interest of politicians, bureaucrats, and voters, and not with larger issues of legislation that are beneficial to all in the long term.
This situation has created a large and complex federal bureaucracy, which inevitably makes mistakes. To remedy these mistakes, voters turn to their congressmen. This gives rise to an entrenched establishment that functions in its own self-interest. According to Fiorina, Congress creates big government, the system feeds itself and its own interests, and any benefit to the country is incidental.