Congressional approval ratings have hit a new low according to a recent poll out from Economist/YouGov.com–six percent. According to the poll, that’s lower than any other occupation in America, including car salesmen. Wow.
Doubtless, the late night TV personalities will get a kick out of this. But this strikes me as more scary than funny.
The fact that most Americans don’t trust car salesmen is a fact that has no impact on the life of the nation whatsoever. When it comes to the national debt, nuclear proliferation, national security, or the protection of basic freedoms, who cares what people think about car salesmen?
But the fact that 94% of Americans view the national legislature in such unfavorable terms is alarming.
The framers of the Constitution envisioned the Congress to hold most of the levers of power in the federal government. Congress has the power of the purse. It has the power to declare war. It can overturn a presidential veto. Just read Article One of the Constitution–clearly the framers put enormous confidence in the Congress when they designed it.
For the American people to be so contemptuous of the branch of government that has such power and the one that is closest to them is ironic. It’s true that this poll is only asking folks to rate Congress in general. The poll isn’t asking about how people regard their own representatives and senators. Still, who elected the people who sit in the House and Senate? They didn’t end up in the Congress by some feat of magic.
The Congress most closely resembles the people it represents. If the Congress is so bad, what does that say about the people who elected them? And if the Congress is overhauled in 2014, what do you think the chances are that approval numbers will bounce to, say, the 50s? Low approval numbers for the US Congress are here to stay, and I suspect it has something to do with the toxic partisanship that members of the House and Senate trade in each day.
What is the source of the partisanship in Washington? Is Washington the only place where people of different political and social views disrespect one another so?
Doesn’t the partisanship in Congress reflect the lack of civility in the electorate? Doesn’t partisanship among the people pay a dividend to the same Congressmen and senators that the people love to hate?
The American people have to face up to this. It’s easy to blame the “do-nothing,” “hyper-partisan,” “childish” Congress. Do they deserve blame? You bet. But the American people share in the blame, because the American people are just as bitterly divided amongst themselves, and they feed the partisanship in Washington by their own attitudes and behaviors.
If we want to keep our republic, it behooves us–the people of the United States–to work toward civility rather than drawing battle lines within our own national family.