Our bicameral legislature has often gone through periods of great public dissatisfaction. The very nature of how delegates for the House of Representatives are chosen turns it into a raucous group of about 430 people with constituents that have as a diverse an ideological makeup as the representatives themselves. The Senate, with its longer terms and smaller number of available seats, often becomes a place where much is deliberated, but far less is actually passed on its way to the President’s desk. None of these problems are new, and all of them exist today.
Today though, we are faced with an inept congress of epic proportions, and the proof is in the approval ratings. A recent Rasmussen poll found that just 6 percent of Americans think their congress is doing a “good” or “excellent” job. Admittedly, Rasmussen is right-leaning, but low, single-digit approval ratings like this mean that people who give themselves all kinds of political labels can agree on one thing — they disagree with just about everything Congress is doing one way or the other. When ratings are this low though, it gives us a chance to figure out why we all are so disdainful of our elected officials.
As best I can tell, these are the five biggest reasons almost no one approves of the job Congress is doing.
#5. Lobbyists, Greed and Citizens United
We can rant and rave about what the latest idiotic thing that TEApublican Representative A said about public policy B, but the fact remains that the average citizen has very little direct contact with their elected officials. The same cannot be said though for corporate lobbying interests. Not only do they have direct contact with congressional members, they have an additional avenue with which to influence policy — SuperPACs. Citizens United made the rights of the corporation equal to the rights of human beings, and in the process pushed us all even further to the back of the line.
#4. Gerrymandering Up The Yin
You would think that raising debunked conspiracy theories in congressional hearings would get you thrown out of congress the next time voters get a chance. The problem with that thinking is that when Republicans took over control of the House in 2010 they immediately set to re-drawing district lines to group the voters there into groups that would have their ideologies prevailing, barring insane turnout levels. That’s called gerrymandering my friend, and it’s the reason that Texas Republican Louie “Don’t Cast Aspersions on My Asparagus” Gohmert still has a job. That boob wouldn’t have even been elected in a blue or purple district. When congressmen and women don’t have to fear retribution in the form of being voted out, no matter how egregious their behavior, you have a recipe for disaster, and for a highly unpopular congress to remain largely unchanged.
#3. Hyper-partisanship in the County
Let’s be real here, shall we? Americans are pretty sharply divided these days. I’m not suggesting they’re more or less divided than they’ve ever been, but the constant flow of information from the 24-hour news cycle (which we’ll get to just below this entry) combined with the Internet’s ability to deliver a message to any group necessary means you can have hyper-focused rhetoric hitting the right crowds and that makes it so no matter what the reds hate the blues and the blues hate the reds. When people out in the countryside aren’t much concerned with cooperation and compromise, why would their elected officials do things any differently?
#2. Echo Chambers Masquerading As News Outlets
We all know I’m talking about Fox (Faux) News here. I’m sure right-wingers will scream about MSNBC to me over this one, but the biggest distinction I can draw is that at the very least MSNBC makes their intentions as a commentary first organization known from the outset. In fact, when asked why the network has seen such a decline in ratings recently, the left-leaning media outlet said as much, citing the fact that they are about opinion and not so much breaking news. It’s Fox that parades around as an unbiased information source when time and again it’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt they are anything but. The cumulative effect has been that wholly one-third of our country gets a version of the world fed to them that doesn’t quite add-up, and about half our representatives are playing to that crowd exclusively.
#1. The Tea Party
At first glance, perhaps I’m just really letting my biases poke out on this one. Then again, think about this way — from 2001 to 2009 the man in the Oval Office was
Dick Cheney George W. Bush. If ever there was a man who people on the left despised and wanted out of office, it was George W. Bush. While the anti-Bush rhetoric could itself spin a bit into the ridiculous area of politics, the fact remains that Democrats both in the House and the Senate while not willing to bend over backwards (except for the Iraq War resolution, but I digress) they most certainly did compromise, on many things. Work got done in that time, no matter how much the Dems despised Dubya.
But when the tea drinkers came to town, suddenly it was all political theater, all the time. They declared their number one goal as ensuring he’d be a one-term president and then set about to achieve that goal. In the time since, they’ve wasted taxpayer money chasing conspiracy theories as legit scandals, symbolically repealing Obamacare nearly forty times, and causing so much gridlock on Capitol Hill — gleefully I might add — that now virtually no one likes Congress, because Congress is frankly so damned unlikable.
So no, it’s not just straight-up demagoguery, it’s proven fact. The Tea Party is the number one problem in Congress, and unless or until they are marginalized, don’t expect congressional approval ratings to get much past the low teens.