Currently two billionaires, Warren Buffet and Dan Gilbert, have offered to give $1 billion to anyone who can predict a perfect March Madness tournament bracket. Odds of there being a winner of that challenge are less than 1 in 128 billion by the most optimistic calculation.
I am proposing a better use of $1 billion: Establish an endowed organization to attack the partisan gridlock that plagues our government now.
We need a means to alter the calculus surrounding the important basic motivations that drive politicians. In the current political structure, cooperation with the other side is the surest way to election defeat. The result is that public servants, like distinguished former Sens. Joe Lieberman, (D, Conn.), Blanche Lincoln (D, Ark.), Bob Bennett (R, Utah), and Richard Luger (R, Indiana), can be defeated or severely weakened in party primaries because they cooperated with the other party.
It is one thing to contest incumbents because of issues; it is quite another to challenge them because they worked with the other side. There are growing numbers of organizations on both left and right that are committed to a doctrinal purity that precludes cooperation and compromise on important issues. These organizations control an increasing share of campaign funding targeted to specific races. What senator or representative with a normal concern for political survival will take positions that guarantee a well-funded, enthusiastic primary challenge from an extreme wing of his part?.
According to Bob Bennett: When the tea party works to defeat Republicans for such sins as even speaking to Democrats or . . . hugging Barack Obama, the basic principles of the Grand Old Party are lost. ... Would I have voted on TARP or immigration differently had I known that would cost me my Senate seat? No. Because there are things far more important than being a senator. And one is to be true to your own conscience.
Do we really want a political system in which congressmen have to forfeit their political futures in order to be true to their consciences? If we continue in the current direction, we will need to be content with a U.S. Congress populated exclusively by purists on the extremes of the political spectrum and those without strong consciences.
What I am proposing is an endowed foundation with a very limited charter. It would provide support to senators and representatives who are being challenged because they voted for compromise legislation that offended some in their own parties. The objective would be to enable national politicians to cooperate with the other party and compromise on hot-button issues knowing that they would have support if challenged in their party primary elections.
Bipartisan effort and effectiveness should be the only factor in deciding how to spend the organizations money. How liberal or conservative the candidate is should not be a factor. However, the net result of this effort will be to move both parties toward more moderate positions on the issues.
People of wealth in our country could take a positive step to change the re-election calculus by funding this organization with a large endowment the larger, the better. A $1 billion endowment would generate about $80 million per two-year election cycle. One of $10 billion would generate $800 million. Are there Americans who love their country enough to forgo personal political preferences and use their wealth to push the political pendulum back toward reasonable government? I hope so.
Lt. Col. Theodore M. Shadid Jr. of Rhode Island is retired from the U.S. Army.