In its first nine months, the 112th Congress has seen lots of debate, tons of posturing, the drawing of lines in the sand. According to a recent Gallop poll, the American people have been watching and have a historically low opinion of what they have seen, giving Congress a 15% approval rating.
According to the polling data, a continually faltering economy, high unemployment, and what the public calls “partisan gridlock” are to blame for these historically low approval ratings. I can wrap my head around the economy, the continually abysmal jobs reports, and the uncertainty that exists within our financial markets as reasons for a disgruntled electorate.
But I must admit, as much as I hate the political bickering, I cannot help but ask myself, “what did we expect?” when we complain about the gridlock?
All summer I heard things like – “why can’t we just get along? The American people sent those officials to DC to work for us! They act like children!”
If you look at with a simplistic set of glasses, all of these statements are easily understood. But it’s not that simple. In 2010, the American electorate overwhelmingly elected a very liberal President. At the same time, districts all across America that supported President Obama, voted for ultra conservative members of Congress. Then we put these folks together in a room and said, go ahead, make nice and do good work for America. Well, I hate to say this, but President Obama’s view of what is good for America is probably different from a new Member of Congress, who was supported by the Tea Party movement, and his or her view of what is good for America.
I honestly believe that the President and the men and women elected to serve in Congress legitimately, sincerely, and passionately come to the table with good intentions. But the last nine months have demonstrated that on matters where the two principle political philosophies clash on their bedrock positions, intense debate will ignite passionate positions and little common ground exists to find compromise.
Even though the pre-summer debate on the Hill was ugly and sometimes nasty, it’s what we asked for. We elected a conservative majority in the House of Representatives, a liberal majority in the U.S. Senate, and a liberal President. What did we honestly expect?
Yet, despite these canyon-like differences in opinion and philosophy, Congress passed a compromise bill on funding the government and avoided a shut-down in March. Congress passed a compromise bill on the Debt Ceiling increase and avoided a default of U.S. debt.
As we head into the fall, we will likely witness an intense and spirited debate on further cuts and the jobs bill. At the end of the day, after what everyone out there will call “politics as usual,” there will most likely be a compromise bill that incorporates some of what each side wanted. It is important to note that numerous non-bedrock bills pass the House and the Senate every day with bipartisan support, but true and honest differences exist on those issues that define intense differences between the two parties.
The system works. It’s not pretty sometimes, but it works. It functions more smoothly when one party holds a majority over the House and the Senate. It functions even smoother when one party controls all branches of government. But the American electorate voted for a clash of ideologies in 2010 and in spite of those clashing philosophies, the system works.
For the last nine months, we have asked men and women with very different viewpoints to fix the major problems in America. But we have also tied their hands with comments like “you’d better not vote for a tax increase,” or “never compromise, stand firm, and just get the job done,” or “I will never support you again if you vote to increase the debt under any circumstance,” or “I know we have a deficit problem, but project x is just too important to cut.” Honestly, what did we expect?
Congress is nothing more than a reflection of us. We send a politically diverse group of people to Washington, set up unrealistic goals and objectives, demand “no-compromise” solutions, attack solutions and ideas on both sides, and demand that “sacred cows” be removed from consideration when trying to find solutions.
Do you agree with your neighbor all the time? If a cell tower is proposed for your neighborhood, does everyone agree with its placement? If you and ten of your friends sat around the table and discussed how to solve the budget deficit, would you all agree on one solution?
In a little over a year, we will go to the polls again. That is our next chance to change the way business is conducted in Washington. To the 85% who look at Congress unfavorably, I have only this to say: What did you expect?
In 2012, make a decision as to which philosophy you support and stick to it. In the meantime, stop whining and welcome to Democracy.