We have met the enemy, and he is us.
News flash – we really do not like our elected officials. Nothing new there. According to Gallup, the highest approval rating for Congress was 84% – way back in 2001. Currently, the poll sits at 20%. A look at the ratings over the years since 1975 puts the average approval rating at 40% or below.(https://news.gallup.com/poll/1600/congress-public.aspx)
Why don’t we like them? The answers vary, and often fluctuate depending on who is in office. Perhaps it is the deep-seated American worldview of distrust of anyone in government. Or maybe we are just tired of the ineffectiveness of those we elected, or the apparent lack of solutions to problems. Whatever the reason, it has become the accepted norm to really dislike those elected to office.
Except our own politician.
In stark contrast to this very dismal view of our elected officials stands the historic percentage rates of those who get re-elected to Congress. Since 1960, the average re-election rate for those running for a House or Senate seat has been upwards of 85- 90%. In other words, once elected to Congress, an incumbent politician has a 9 in 10 chance to be re-elected. Those are odds any gambling man would take. (https://www.opensecrets.org/overview/reelect.php)
Why the disconnect? Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post (he has since moved on to CNN) put it this way:
…it’s far easier to hate an institution — like, say, FIFA — than an individual, particularly an individual you sort-of, kind-of think you know. There’s a natural tendency to assume your guy or gal isn’t like everyone else — how could they be bad since you voted for them? — and they are doing everything they can to make things better up there/down there/out there in Washington.
The message from voters to Congress? Throw the bums out. But not my bum. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2013/05/09/people-hate-congress-but-most-incumbents-get-re-elected-what-gives/?utm_term=.9f00d1f669f6)
This overwhelming re-election rate is one of the reasons many call for term limits. Throw all the “bums” out after two terms. We use it for the Presidency, why not members of Congress?
Yet term limits do not seem to work. States that have imposed term limits have seen a loss of legislative authority, and lack of long term thinking.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that short-term legislators aren’t prone to engage in long-term thinking. It’s happening in all 15 of the states where term limits have gone into effect. In Arkansas several years ago, members of the legislature negotiated a solid waste fee to underwrite future environmental cleanups. After they all left office, a new group, not appreciating what the money had been set aside for– or probably not even knowing–dipped into it, disbursing the funds into a newly favored program of their own. (http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/Truth-Term-Limits.html)
Clearly limiting the scope of legislative long-term thinking, as well as reducing the impact of legislative power, is not the way to go in America.
These and other top-down answers to our dissatisfaction with government fail to address the issue that is at the heart of a representational republic. The reason why our government is failing us is that we as the electorate continue to elect failing politicians. We are the problem.
We elect those who promise to bring money to ourselves or our communities, without understanding the impact on the country as a whole.
We elect those who say what we want, instead of addressing the things we need as a country.
We elect those whom we like, or are a “good-guy”, without inquiring as to his or her level of statesmanship.
We fail to delve into issues of character. In a republic, character is highly important, as our representatives must often vote against the passing will of the people in order for the greater long-term good of the country.
We as a people forget our own history, and world history, and elect leaders who hold to failed and dangerous policies
We elect career politicians who have never had to meet payroll, never hired an employee, or had to balance the books.
We elect people based on their gender, creed, or skin color because it makes us feel good – instead of putting someone in power based on their merits.
We elect someone else because it is easier than standing up for office ourselves.
The politicians are not the problem. The carefully crafted Constitution of the United States is not the problem. Lobbyists, Democrats, Republicans, and bureaucrats are not the problem. Nor are they the solution.