The latest Gallup Poll indicates that only 20% of Americans think Congress is doing a good job. In the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency, those numbers haven’t changed much: month after month, they have hovered mostly in the low teens. With a Republican president and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress during that time, obviously Republicans are the problem. Except they’re only half the problem.
Exactly 10 years ago, Congress’ approval rating was 23% (again according to Gallup and thus comparing apples to apples), and over the past decade dropped as low as 9% and never once climbed to even a respectable minority, such as 40%. During most of those years, the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, but the Democrats controlled the Senate; each party controlled each house on more than one occasion.
Further putting things in perspective, consider that although much was made about George W. Bush’s “record-low” approval ratings of just 25%, also by Gallup, in October, 2008, his last year as president and at the height of Great Recession’s economic panic, Congress’ ratings were even lower: only 18%.
When people wonder why we even have political parties here in the United States, they’re in good company. George Washington in his Farewell Address to the nation warned against forming them, but his immediate successors, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, did not pay heed. Federalist Adams defeated Democratic-Republican Jefferson in the presidential election of 1796, and Jefferson returned the favor in 1800. Think Trump vs. Clinton in 2016 was a nasty election? It doesn’t hold a candle to the Adams-Jefferson wars.
Proponents argue that political parties are necessary to keep elected officials honest and in check. After all, what better motivator to closely scrutinize one’s opponents than the potential reward of replacing them? To put it another way, neither Democrats nor Republicans have a great track record, as reflected in their abysmal approval ratings. But if there’s one thing at which each is good, it’s blaming the other: if you want to know how bad a Democrat is, just ask a Republican, and vice versa.
One would think, though, that competition would inspire the parties to get better and better over time, with each fearing losing its competitive edge by not maintaining a particular level of excellence. As I write this column, I have the volume muted on the remote control, but I can see a beautiful, incredibly crisp picture on my 32-inch TV – that’s the “small one,” the one in my living room is much larger – and I have about 1000 channels from which to choose. The television set cost me less than $300 and is probably now even less expensive. Pretty soon, they’ll be giving out big-screen TVs as gifts for opening a bank account, or getting a full-service oil change.
This is in sharp contrast (no pun intended) to how things were when I was a kid. When our 21-inch set was a black and white console and our rabbit ears antenna picked up a grand total of about 10 channels, ranging from clear to incredibly grainy.
A few years later, when we upgraded to cable and bought a new color set, 25-inches, it was a big deal, and a major investment. And there’s no comparison between the sharp resolution today’s sets offer as compared to those from a few decades ago.
That’s what businesses do: they try to gain the edge over their competitors by making a better product, prompting the competition to make an even better product in return, and in the case of the television industry also slashing prices, and the end result is a very happy consumer.
But political competition has not yielded the same results. To use the TV analogy, the picture is blurry, the channel selection limited, the cable bill is through the roof (well, that part is actually true), and none of the major manufacturers of television sets, or the major cable and satellite dish companies – i.e., the Democrats and the Republicans – seem to care. The reason is that they know they have a duopoly stranglehold on the American people. They’re the only viable game in town. It’s easier for a new company to emerge in the television market than for a third political party to compete with the big two. That’s why on so many major issues, they kick the can down the road and avoid risk as much as possible.
The other big problem with political parties is that there is often very little room for compromise. If the Democrats’ platform is no border wall and the Republicans’ platform is no pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, then how about the Senate and House members in both parties who favor a wall-for-pathway compromise?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said a wall is “immoral.” Does every one of her other 234 fellow House Democrats agree? And what about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? What if he strongly supports a bill that sharply limits gun control? Do all 52 of the other Senate Republicans feel the same way?
Turning to the American voters, particularly in today’s politically divisive climate, so many look for the “D” or “R” next to a Congress member’s name who is smiling and waiting to be interviewed on TV, and reflexively say: “oh, good, he’s on our side,” and decide to agree with everything he says even if the person in question hasn’t even opened his (her) mouth yet.
With all due respect to our second and third presidents, when it came to political parties, it was the first one, the Father of our Country, who seems to have had it right.
The post Abysmal Congress Reflects our Flawed 2-Party System appeared first on The National Herald.Source: The National Herald