If Elected, I Will Make Some Barely Noticeable Difference to America.

Here's how representative democracy works: We send a representative from our district or state to Washington, where they become one of either 435 House members or 100 senators. They can introduce legislation, serve on committees, and make speeches. But for one of them to do something really far-reaching is rare. That's especially true when you're new to the institution, partially because you need the cooperation of a majority of your colleagues to pass something, and partially because of the nature of seniority. When you're a freshman, you don't get to waltz in and write the next big tax bill. You don't get to chair the Appropriations Committee.

But people running for office routinely imply to voters that if they are elected, Washington will be transformed. Look at this new ad from Rand Paul:

"A physician not a career politician, Rand Paul will fix Medicare and Social Security." Two of my biggest pet peeves right there. First, saying you're not a politician so you'll be able to accomplish extraordinary things in your work as a politician is like saying, "Yes, you called me because your lights shorted out. Now I'm not an electrician, I'm a massage therapist -- which is why I'll be able to get your electrical system working better than any electrician would."

Second, the idea that "Rand Paul will fix Medicare and Social Security" all by his lonesome is too absurd for words. Here's the truth: Rand Paul will not fix Medicare and Social Security. It's possible that Republicans could take control of Congress and then move on a bill transforming the two largest programs in our federal budget. It's even possible that the changes they make would "fix" them, at least from their perspective (which in Paul's case probably means "privatize"). But even if that were to happen, Paul's role would at best be ... voting for the bill when it comes to the floor. And maybe, if he gets a seat on the right committee, making a compelling statement during the mark-up. But he isn't going to "fix" anything, not by himself.

This is one of the reasons voters are so cynical about politics. Their candidates tell them, "Elect me, and all your problems are over." Then they elect them, and lo and behold, solving problems turns out to be really complicated. So they decide, not unreasonably, that the guy they voted for was full of crap, and so are the rest of his kind.

-- Paul Waldman

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