I grew up in a culture where politicians rose or fell by their “constituent service” — their skill at getting the potholes filled, the garbage removed, summer jobs for the college students, clerical sincecures for veterans and neighborhood celebrities, pension and disability checks for the old folks. But Fred A. Bernstein, “a journalist and a lawyer in New York”, explains in the NYTimes that this is both unfair and against the Constitution:
OUT of work and stuck with an expensive mortgage, my friend was on the verge of losing her house. Attempts to get the bank to modify her loan led to a situation Kafka would have recognized: scores of letters, hundreds of phone calls — but no modification. Then she called one of her senators. Soon a member of the senator’s staff had contacted the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal agency that regulates national banks. Not long after, my friend received the loan modification she had been requesting, unavailingly, for years.
A happy ending? Only for my friend. For the country, what government workers call “constituent services” — really the meddling of representatives in the business of executive agencies — is a sign of federal dysfunction, and one with consequences. Congress, arguably the most powerful branch of government, seems to have given up on the main thing the Constitution authorizes it to do: pass laws.
Instead, it is busy helping Americans one at a time, an impractical and outrageously expensive operation, which is not only a kind of favoritism masquerading as compassion, but a thumb in the eye of the Constitution, with its much admired blueprint for separation of powers….
… [S]olving people’s problems individually takes the pressure off Congress to solve society’s problems generally. By providing constituent services, Congress is like a fire department that doesn’t put out fires, but simply rescues those who scream the loudest. The danger is that “as constituent service becomes such a prominent part of the job, legislative duties suffer,” writes Dennis F. Thompson, a professor of political philosophy at Harvard. He describes such casework, “unmentioned in the Constitution” and “unimagined by the founders,” as a brand of low-level corruption…
Is it just my peasant parochialism, or does this read like a plea for keeping a layer of (adequately compensated) lawyers & professors between us mere voters with our petty concerns, and the legislative nobility of a Congress concerned only with abstract rule-making at a level far above us?