The U.S. Congress has demonstrated a particular knack for giving itself black eyes this year. As if shutting down the Federal government and then nearly causing the nation to default on its debt weren't enough, Congress decided to end the year on a low note by cutting off unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans. Acting on its impeccable instinct for placing itself in the poorest possible light, Congress cut off these benefits a few days after Christmas. Genius!
According to a recent CNN poll, two-thirds of Americans rate the current Congress as the worst in their lifetime. This was across all demographic and political subgroups, with older Americans expressing the most negativity. I'd say Congress should consider itself lucky the numbers weren't worse.
Had I been included in the poll, I would have agreed with the majority. This Congress has been terrible in terms of getting the people's business done. Well, perhaps I should qualify that. It's been terrible at doing much for the 98%. At protecting the top 2%, it's done rather well.
What I find particularly disturbing about Congress since the Republicans took back the House in 2011 is the cruel streak demonstrated by those actions it does manage to take. Failing to extend the unemployment benefits is just the latest example. Remember how slow Congress was to authorize funding for disaster relief after Hurricane Sandy? And how about the reduced funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)? Like a schoolyard bully, Congress has shown a propensity for kicking people when they are down.
In the case of the unemployment benefits and SNAP, there were other ways of reaching the budget targets, but Congress chose to take punitive action against some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Reminds me of a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”
Congress has certainly failed the character test in the last few years.
The problem, I think, is we're too often sending the wrong kind of person to Congress. The last thing you want to do is elect someone who lacks compassion and is unable to empathize with those from different backgrounds. Giving such a person power over others is just asking for trouble. It's like putting the cool kids in charge of the nerds. Beatings are going to follow.
Complacency and disengagement of the electorate get a lot of the blame here. Too many reasonable people have mentally checked out and left it to the crazies like the Tea Party wingnuts to do the voting. Not good.
And we've allowed the election process to become so coin-operated that it's very hard for a decent, caring person to make it into office with his or her moral compass intact. Citizens United and the rise of Super PACs have turned elections into a kind of insane bidding war. Haven't seen a House or Senate seat for sale on eBay yet but one wonders if it's just a matter of time.
But, despite all this, I still believe we can turn this thing around. Giving the House Speaker's gavel back to Nancy Pelosi and retaining Democratic control of the Senate are doable and necessary. Until the Republicans rid themselves of the Tea Party virus and become something much closer to the party of Lincoln again, I don't think they can be trusted with the responsibility of governing.
Let's make 2014 the year we take the House back from Darth Boehner and the dark side (aka the Tea Party).
Who's with me?