The rise of the permanent political class in Washington came with the rise of a vast government apparatus with unprecedented amounts of money and power to control and corrupt individuals, institutions and the fabric of the whole society.
The first giant steps in this direction were taken in the 1930s, when the Great Depression provided the rationale for a radically expanded role of government that Franklin D. Roosevelt and his followers had believed in before there was a Great Depression.
There are now people in Washington whose entire adult lives have been spent in government, in one role or another. Some begin as aides to politicians or as part of the sprawling empires of the federal bureaucracy. From this they progress to high elective or appointed offices in government.
Turnover in Congress has been reduced almost to the vanishing point. Political alliances within government and with outside special interests, as well as the gerrymandering of Congressional districts, make most incumbents' reelection virtually a foregone conclusion.
The ability to distribute vast amounts of largess to voters, at the taxpayers' expense — President Obama's giving away free cellphones during an election year being just the tip of the iceberg — further tilts the balance in favor of incumbents.
This kind of government must constantly "do something" in order to keep incumbents' names in the news. In short, big government has every incentive to create bigger government.
Throwing the rascals out will not get rid of this political pattern. The first step in limiting, and then scaling back, government itself must be limiting the time that anyone can remain in office — preferably limited to one term, to make it harder to become career politicians, a species we can well do without.
Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His website is www.tsowell.com.