Columns 2014

Congress… a distinctly American criminal class

Let’s call this a view from the sidelines. I’m not a talking news head: not someone who lives and breathes politics as an occupation. But I am someone who, like you, gets to live with the results of elections. So let’s take a look at our recent elections and ruminate on what these results portend to those of us who live in the real world where people don’t shower us with gifts and money in return for our votes.

We can start by taking a look at the national voting average for this last mid term election. It was 38%. So let’s do a little math with that number. In most races, the votes were split rather closely down the middle. Even though Republicans won the majority of the battles, their majorities were not all that mighty. By almost any stretch of the imagination, the Republicans did not get so much of a mandate from the American people as a great big bored yawn aimed at both parties. Neither could get the electorate off their cell phones and into a voting booth in any great number. The Republicans just managed to get slightly less of a yawn from Americans.

But let’s be generous and say that on average they garnered 55% of the vote while the Democrats garnered 45%. That means that the Republicans earned a little over 20% of the votes of potential voters. 20% of our population decided who would be our leaders and who would craft our laws for at least the next two years. Of the approximately 62% that did not vote, one must assume something truly earthshaking kept them from the polls. Perhaps the Dancing with the Stars finale was on that day. Or perhaps they are so terribly content with the way things are that they saw no need to register their preferences through voting. Whatever it was, if you can’t show me your “I Voted” sticker, you are not allowed to complain about anything government does until the next election.

Now let’s move on to the blathering and bleating of the winners over how they are heading to Washington to bring their agenda out of the backroom and pass it and cause all things in America to be right and good again. Or will they?  As an outsider looking in, things don’t quite seem to jive with the rhetoric. And once again it comes down to those pesky things we call numbers. You see, having a simple majority in Congress doesn’t really make you some sort of superpower. Unless you have a veto or filibuster proof majority, your agenda is basically going nowhere. That’s the lesson the Republicans have been teaching the Democrats for the past few years. My guess is that the Democrats are well schooled in it by now. And God knows if there is anyplace on earth filled with enough hot air to naturally support a filibuster, it’s the United States Congress.

One of the things I keep hearing about from the Republican leadership is that they are going to Washington in a spirit of conciliation and cooperation. Aside from some required hot air about ending wars, reducing the national debt, curtailing job loss to 3rd World countries and finally resolving my weight problem, they are acting as reasonable men should act. Which really annoys the crap out of me. Because if they have had this in them for all these years, if both the Democrats and Republicans have always had this capacity to work together and pass meaningful legislation and they chose not to for some bizarre reason, then I am really major mad.

Sadly, the best I can visualize about the next few years in Washington is more of the same, except this time it’s the Democrats, not Republicans, who will be doing the filibustering. But it will still be depressingly more of the same, about what America has come to expect from this Congress. I can’t imagine how many years it will be until anyone in America can say they respect the legislative branch of our government with a straight face. A whole generation of kids will grow up knowing the truth to what Will Rogers once so aptly said, “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” Or is Mark Twain closer to the truth with his observation that, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”

Either way, heaven help us all.