Do you despise Congress? You’re not alone. The current Congress’s 11% approval rating is the lowest since polling began. Yet, because of gerrymandering and the resulting hyper-partisanship, people tend to support their own particular Representative, and to heap the blame on the other party.
Is everything just a subjective matter of partisan opinion. Are there explicit statistical reasons to credit one party in particular with the present mess?
“I think you’d have to go back to the 1850s to find a period of congressional dysfunction like the one we’re in today,” says Daniel Feller, a professor of U.S. history at the University of Tennessee. In modern history, “there have been battles, delays, brinkmanship — but nothing quite like this,” says Thomas Mann, senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, in a book about Congress with a title that provides a succinct answer: It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. Mann acknowledges there have been worse times for Congress, but he reaches back a very long way for a comparison.
“There were a few really bruising periods in American congressional history, not only the run-up to the Civil War, but also around the War of 1812,” Mann says.
Ah, but as I’ll show you (below) things are not only biliously hateful within the hallowed Capitol walls. There is another sin that’s become rampant there… one never reported in the press, but in some ways more contemptible than any other.
== Comparison to the “merely” insane 1990s ==
I have long pointed out that Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution of 1995 started out with some impressive activity. Part of it was disturbing, like the banishing of all scientific advisory staff from Congress, freeing right-wing members to simply declare any facts they felt like uttering. This action was an early harbinger of what became today’s pyrotechnic, outright and open War on Science.
On the other hand, Newt’s initial negotiation of Welfare Reform and budget balancing measures with President Clinton had stunningly impressive results. In fact, those two major accomplishments should have demonstrated conclusively what can be achieved for the national good by pragmatic people negotiating mixed methods to solve problems.
In 1995 Newt and other Republican intellectuals proposed a Health Care plan that later became the template both for RomneyCare in Massachusetts and ObamaCare in 2009. The main features – Insurance changes combined with a required individual mandate – were at the time offered as a market alternative to the more European style “HillaryCare” that the democrats proposed. Still, the Republicans under Gingrich, in the 1990s, appeared to (occasionally) want to deliberate, negotiate, dicker, come up with some way to move ahead.
It was in that spirit that Barack Obama based his Health Care Plan entirely upon the Republicans’ earlier proposal. Let’s make that even plainer… the “socialist” ObamaCare bill is almost identical to the Gingrich proposal that was in the Republican Party platform for a decade and that Romney instituted in his state. If that isn’t negotiation, I don’t know what is. But… of course… by then the GOP had moved on.
== The Era of Absolute-No Begins ==
It seems hard to look at it the last decade of the 20th Century as one of halcyon political statesmanship, since 75% of the time Gingrich and the 1990s Republicans were engaged in volcanic partisan behavior rife with irony (e.g. assigning nearly all divorcees to prosecute the just-once-married Clinton for marital misbehavior.) But the 25% of the time that Newt spent on problem solving helped to make the 90s work for America. And, under Gingrich, the GOP-led Congress was part of that.
Alas, things were evolving fast within the GOP. Roger Ailes was taking charge. Soon, the fact that Gingrich actually negotiated with the (constitutionally elected) enemy some of the time became seen as a criminal offense against conservatism and he was ousted from his leadership posts. To this day, many in the party refuse to forgive the fact that Newt co-designed working legislation with William Jefferson Clinton.
So far, we’ve been discussing things that are common knowledge. But it gets much, much worse. What ensued after Newt’s ouster — years of howling and lynch mob tactics — have masked from the public a far more important fact: that the GOP-led Congresses from 1996 through 2006 were also the laziest and least effective in 100 years.
I don’t say that from any “liberal” perspective. Rather, I base it on objective and unambiguous standards of hard work, time and productivity. Giving their employers what they pay for. The recent Republican Congresses passed fewer bills, held fewer hearings, issued fewer subpoenas and held fewer days in active session than almost any other since the era of William McKinley. The record is damn near perfect. There are no metrics of legislative or deliberative indolence that weren’t broken by the GOP-led Congresses of the last decade or so.
Wanting “less government” is a pat but stupid excuse for this, since Republicans go on and on about changes they would like to make! De-regulations and privatizations. Abolishing departments! Restricting abortions. Hemming in gays and abrogating foreign treaties. Border walls to build! And penalties for hiring illegal immigrants. Unifying church and state. Reining in the judiciary and unleashing corporations, and so on…. Well? Then why didn’t you actually do any of those things?
The GOP owned Congress and the Courts for ten years, and operated all three branches of government for six of those years, with nothing whatsoever to stop them from passing anything they wanted. Yet, amid a tsunami of complaints, they would not even issue subpoenas or hold investigations to harass their enemies! Nor even show up on days that they were paid to.
Lip service. That is all Republican Senators and Representatives actually delivered on any of those matters so dear to Tea Partiers and the GOP base. Words, lots of angry words. No actions. Well, almost none. One constituency actually got enough attention to get bills passed. Do you remember which? De-regulation of the banking and mortgage and credit industries. Liberation of Wall Street gamblers. Removal of gas mileage standards. Plenty of the sort of thing that sent our economy toward a cliff.
Otherwise? Pure laziness.
== Watch out for the voting machines ==
Nearly every county in America now uses electronic voting machines that – under several dummy corporations – are made by a single deeply-Republican family. Given the irregularities that erupted in past years — and the potential for untold mischief — I had expected that this matter to receive copious attention from Democratic groups. Yet I’ve heard nothing. Nothing at all. In fact, lack of attention is deeply disturbing.
Now dig this recent statement:
“If someone were to hack into the machine, if the logging is not secure and doesn’t protect it from rollback, that would allow someone to tamper with it and leave no trace.” – Candace Hoke, Cleveland Marshall College of Law professor, on defects in optical ballot scanners currently in use in voting in the U.S.; quoted in USAToday.
One bit of progress. In most counties and precincts a separate paper record is kept, that can be audited. In most cases, this means a physical ballot that you marked by hand and that was scanned-in as it went into a box. It’s an improvement, allowing random audits that might catch any cheaters. Still is this true in YOUR area? It’s your duty to check.
If your region doesn’t use this method… if you use a “voting machine” with a touch screen, for example… then when you finish voting, ask to see the log of your vote on the printed record. Verify that it printed what you remember voting. Spread the word about this and make your friends curious! If enough people do that, then one of many failure modes will become a bit less likely.
If you cannot do this simple check, start asking why. Bring it up on your own discussion lists and make it viral.
==And the SuperPacs==
Finally, by now all of you savvy types will have watched the YouTube of Stephen Colbert handing his SuperPac over to Jon Stewart. It is rich, hilarious… and educational… and absolutely scary for the future of our republic. This will be the summer and autumn of lies. Expect a BILLION dollars – no less- to be spent by Super-Pacs with zero reporting of where they got their cash. Is this the America you want?
Any American with a lick of patriotism has to know by now… we must get the money out of politics. Or the Republic is over.