Hating on Congress is basically a national past time
here in the US. Other than a brief moment of probably misguided solidarity after September 11th, the public's view towards Congress tends to be pretty negative, and it's been getting worse lately. Here's a historical look from Gallup at the public's approval ratings of Congress.
Esquire sent Mark Warren into Congress, initially to ask as many elected officials as possible "why they are so bad at their jobs," but he noted that he came out of it much more sympathetic to Congress, because, it appears just about everyone in Congress seems to hate Congress too
, and it's not because they literally dislike each other -- but, in part, because they have to appear to dislike each other for the sake of insanely gerrymandered districts that they brought upon themselves. Well, except Ted Cruz. It appears that pretty much everyone in Congress, no matter which house or party, really dislikes Cruz.
Reading through the article, you begin to realize just how pitiful Congress really is.
What's interesting is how many seem to blame gerrymandering and redistricting for the problems of Congress, even though those in power did the redistricting on purpose to try to keep themselves in power. But it appears that people in Congress are now (finally) realizing the problematic consequences:
"You know, if I had a magic wand, one thing I would love to change—which you can't do unless you're king—is the redistricting process by which our boundaries are drawn," says Republican Aaron Schock of Illinois. "Because what has happened over the decades is he who controls the mapmaking process, you know, creates hyperpartisan districts. And you get more and more members who come out here and say, 'Gee, I know that I want to accomplish something on this issue. I want to take action on this issue, but the base of my district is so far to the right or to the left it makes it difficult for us to negotiate to the center.' But whether you're the most conservative member or you're the most liberal member, if you have half a brain, you recognize you're not going to get everything, and that any successful legislation requires the art of negotiation."
"When you have these one-party districts, the only election is in the primary, and the winner of the primary will be the one who is closer to the views of the narrowest base," says Angus King, Independent senator from Maine. "You can't be moderate. Who votes in primaries? You have a 10 percent turnout in a primary election in Georgia, and Republicans are 30 percent of the population. So 10 percent of 30 percent—that's 3 percent of the population voting to choose the nominee, and then if it's a multiperson race, and the winner gets 35 percent, that's one third of 3 percent—1 percent of the population chooses the nominee, who in a gerrymandered district will be the eventual member of Congress. That is bizarre, and it has completely polarized Congress. In the primary system that we have now, there is no upside for a Republican to be reasonable. I have a friend who is a very conservative senator, and he faced a primary this year, and I said, 'Good Lord, man, what are they gonna charge you with?' And he said: 'Being reasonable.' "
"Our Venn diagram," says Derek Kilmer, Democrat of Washington State, "is two circles, miles apart. Just after we got here, a group of us, Democrats and Republicans, were at a burger joint talking, and after about forty-five minutes, I said, 'We have to be able to get our act together and figure some of these things out. And across the table, one of my colleagues said, 'Derek, I like you, but you have to understand that I won my seat by defeating a Republican incumbent in my primary, and I campaigned against him for not being conservative enough. The first vote I cast when I got here was against John Boehner for Speaker, and I put out a press release that I had voted against him because he was too compromising. I like you, but I have zero interest in compromising with you or anybody else. My constituents didn't send me here to work with you; they sent me here to stop you.' I left there and called my wife and said, 'Oh, my God!' "
Combine that with the fact that they only get attention when there's conflict, rather than when they actually accomplish something, and guess what you get?
But all the same, the great majority of members interviewed said that the most rewarding work they ever did in Congress was in finding points of agreement with a congressman or senator from the other party, working to forge legislation that bridged the usual divides. "But nobody cares about that stuff," says Republican congressman Morgan Griffith from Virginia. " 'News flash: People are getting along, compromising, doing their jobs like adults' doesn't have the sizzle of conflict that the media demands in order to hold your interest. I have good relationships with several Democrats, and last year Diana DeGette [Democrat of Colorado], Gene Green [Democrat of Texas], and I introduced an important compounding-pharmacy bill to help prevent disease outbreaks. It really matters. And gets very little attention."
And of course, all of it has to do with "red team/blue team" crap, rather than any actual points of agreement or disagreement. There's a story from Democratic Senator Chris Coons, in which he talks about a conversation, back in 2011, with Republican Senator Marc Rubio, discussing the upcoming 2012 presidential election, in which both Senators admit to never bothering to have read the candidates' economic plans.
And, of course, the other big issue: money in politics. As we've discussed in the past
, so many people look upon lobbying and such as a form of bribery, but the reality is often the opposite. It's almost a kind of extortion
by politicians on industry, because they constantly need money for elections. So they do things designed to kick up controversy solely to get big interests to donate to their campaigns. And that often requires extreme positions that generate a lot of anger.
These snippets are just a bit of what's in the article. There's a lot more, including some people willing to name names (beyond just Ted Cruz) of the people they hate, and who else they blame. It's worthwhile reading.
Frankly, people have been complaining about Congress pretty much forever -- so I always try to take some of the "it's worse now" stories with a grain of "mythical nostalgia" salt. At the same time, gridlock in Congress has some benefits in blocking really bad regulations from passing. But it does seem problematic when important things can't get done, and it's all based on the color of your team and how to best raise money through conflict. It certainly doesn't seem like a good way to run a country.