“Congress” is generally defined as the formal assembly of representatives to discuss problems and make decisions. “Representative” means someone or something that is typically representative of a group or body of opinion. When speaking of a person, a “representative” is meant to speak on behalf of those who appointed him or her.
Judging by the actions of our current Congress, those commonly accepted definitions are wrong. Dead wrong. In a world where actions speak louder than words, “Congress” is now the begrudging collection of predominantly middle-aged, moneyed men to engage in prolonged tempter tantrums that use big words and microphones. And a “representative” is someone so completely disassociated from the reality of his (and sometimes her) constituents that he (and sometimes she) thinks an echo chamber provides reliable feedback.
On paper, our representatives in Congress are supposed to embody the predilections of the local majority that elected them. Together, they are supposed to be the group we showcase to the world as the country we are and the government we expect. In practice, they are giving us every reason to be ashamed of ourselves.
If they are a reflection of who we are, then we are a nation of irresponsible, petty, short-term strategists who value spite over sense. We are stupid enough to believe in sound bites that do not align at all with reality. We enjoy politics for sport, inaction over action. We accept hypocrisy. We are okay with people being used as pawns in someone else’s bid for self-preservation or promotion. We are, quite simply, idiots.
There is redemption to be found, though. While the country might be divided on Obamacare, or on party affiliation, or on government spending, it is nearly united in its disapproval of how Congress is behaving. Congress’ approval rating hovers at 10% – a record low in the history of polling approval for all U.S. agencies, ever. Almost all of us are fighting against the representation of our representatives. Almost all of us contest the picture of America our elected officials are presenting to the world.
That only makes what Congress is doing all the more disgusting. The very reason we’re in this situation is that Congress has consistently failed to pass appropriations bills to fund the government, so they’ve resorted to a series of band-aid measures to float our federal agencies. Now they can’t even agree on what the band-aid will look like. And they aren’t acknowledging the frustration of their national constituents, who are now willing to see something constructed out of tape and chewing gum.
Instead, they’re sending hundreds of thousands of federal employees home without pay, and telling still others to show up for work without a paycheck. Within the pithy minority of civilians that supports these maneuvers, some have the gall to say that the shutdown really isn’t so bad, its effects don’t really hurt anyone, and whoever thinks otherwise is over-reacting. Here’s an excerpt from an exchange on Fox News yesterday:
STEVE DOOCY: I wonder if it’s going to be like the sequester, where before the sequester we heard, you know, the sky is essentially going to fall, it’s going to be awful, you’re going to feel the pain immediately. Mm, not so much.
JONAH GOLDBERG: The worst thing that happens is some museums close and someone can’t go to the Statue of Liberty.
BILL HEMMER: We were all warned that the sky was going to fall. But you woke up this morning, the sun came up, didn’t it?
It’s easy to be cavalier about a government shutdown when your only barometer is whether the sky fell overnight and you continue to receive your comfortable paycheck from your private employer. But surely federal employees who depend on a reliable paycheck, from which their taxes are drawn and their health care needs are paid out of, for example, aren’t overly encouraged by the fact that the sun continues to rise in the east. It’s as if the conservative establishment cannot be content with ignoring people who want the government to operate; that same establishment must pile on with reminders that it has little regard for people who are not in or above their income bracket.
Keep in mind that members of Congress continue to draw a salary during the shutdown. They’ll blame it on the fact that the Constitution “requires them” to be paid, and they’ll try to save face by claiming to donate to charity whatever money they make while they finger-point and pound tables. Here’s some simple math, though: our national Senators and Representatives make about $174,000 a year. That’s about $478 per day. If the shutdown lasts for the 2-3 weeks some predict it will, that amounts to about $10,000 in supposed donations to organizations of the Congressperson’s own choosing. Furloughed federal employees most likely make some small multiple of that $10,000 tax write-off over the course of an entire year. Even when Congress tries to save face, there’s a pie waiting to be thrown.
This is a ridiculous state of affairs. At this point, it doesn’t matter who started it, it only matters who ends it. And whatever member of Congress considers himself or herself to be blameless here better watch out: if it hasn’t already, this entire charade will soon become representative not of the country, but of Congress, and one cranky representative is going to look very much like a do-nothing senator in the eyes of the public.
The only people who should be removed from their desks are the men and women currently wielding the pink slips.