Dysfunctional Congress

Slavery and secession. Though I know of nobody who supports slavery, the two words still bring up passionate feelings and discussions among all races in my home state of Kentucky and throughout the South. Are debt and taxes just as pivotal? Are they such hot button issues that we will continue to argue or avoid the super committee topic even 150 years down the road? This is highly unlikely, but you would not know it if you looked at our Congress; at least that is the conclusion of the book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. The book was written by two prestigious historians, Thomas Mann, the senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and draws some harsh conclusions toward the 112th Congress. According to their book, the last time Congress was this dysfunctional was in the years leading up to the civil war. Many polls have the approval rating of Congress in the single digits, and none above 15%; eyes can be seen glazed over whenever anyone so much as mentions Congress in a public discussion. It is clear that slavery and secession are far more drastic issues than those facing us today; nonetheless, Congress has manufactured one crisis after another this year, and the tension rivals that of the civil war era Congress. Despite all the troubles facing a nation literally torn apart in the 1850’s, U.S. history professor Daniel Feller, at the University of Tennessee said that “none of those involved the level of conflict within Congress itself that we see today.” Feller, who specializes in early to mid-1800’s American history also said “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.”

By looking at Congress from the outside in, one could be led to believe that the decision whether or not to tax an extra 1% on millionaires income is as important of a discussion to the country and to human rights as the discussion over whether or not slaves are considered property, and if they can be owned, can the entire agrarian society of half the nation function without them? The civil war era politics defined our nation and shaped what America would stand for; justice, equality, representation, freedom and opportunity for every person, no matter the circumstances or status of their birth. Granted, we have had our moments where we have failed some of our people, but none can argue that this country stands on the firm foundation shaped permanently during the civil war era. Raising the debt limit hardly holds a candle to the decisions made the last time Congress was this dysfunctional, when the character of a sovereign government was being decided; yet we have that same level of dysfunction nonetheless.

It would be one thing if Congress just disagreed, and their ideological differences were the reason for the separation. This would still be frustrating, though it would be understandable. The fact that each party has, all year long, been opposing the other for the adolescent reason that they are on the “other team” is the thing that has Americans most frustrated. Disagreements a nation can handle, but juvenile petulance we have no patience for. This idea that Republicans must oppose Democrats every idea, and Democrats must do the same is maddening; this is the United States of America at stake here, we are all on the same team. Representatives are not drafted onto one side or another for their respective parties once elected, they are called up to service for the American people. When the contest becomes Democrats against Republicans we are left with very few representatives working for America. It would be comforting if we could assume a national crises (such as slavery or secession were in their day) would unite Washington as it did in the days following the 9/11 attacks, not divide it, as happened with the civil war, but we cannot be sure of that. What evidence do we have that Congress could come together and carve out a path from crises? Surely they did after 9/11, and again when most of the world’s intelligence pointed to Sadam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction, but the hope that they can do this again is fleeting at best when scores of representatives who supported military action did an about face and became adamantly against it. This is not to say the wars were right or wrong, right and wrong may not be applicable here; the fact is that nearly everyone agreed with them when they started, and they have become one of the most dividing events in a generation, even though they began from desperate crisis. The legislators in Washington second guessing themselves did nothing but demoralize and divide a nation, and fluster and confuse troops.

History can analyze right and wrong, but either way we are left with no evidence the two sides can come together to solve any crisis. Granted, our nation being downgraded from AAA credit rating to AA- credit rating is comparatively insignificant on the crisis scale when one considers 9/11; however, had that happened the financial repercussions would have certainly stung to say the least. The 9 or so percent of people who currently support Congress would argue that they did come together to solve that problem and avoid default. When one considers that they balked and cowardly appointed 12 people to take responsibility for the 435 of them who could not, and those 12 subsequently did nothing, thereby setting us up for the same fight a year later, it could hardly be called an accomplishment. Moreover, the scandals, which hardly even seem to qualify as new anymore, illustrate the dysfunctionality and deviance of Congress. When representatives are more interested in sexting and insider trading than governing, it only follows a natural course to end up where we are now. Bickering continued over jobs (the only thing which could truly be labeled as a crisis) resulting in nothing accomplished, payroll taxes, debt limits, and stimulus. All of this gave the American people nothing but a headache. We need jobs, and each side claims to know how to create them. The catch is that tax cuts, via the payroll tax cut and extension of the Bush tax cuts have not worked, and neither have stimulus packages, but the two are arguing apples and oranges. I have yet to have one  Republican explain to me how the government giving people jobs on infrastructure does not create jobs; likewise, there has yet to be one Democrat explain how having the world’s highest corporate tax rate creates jobs. Lowering taxes for companies will help the economy, but it cannot have an immediate impact on job creation. People must spend money before there will be a need to higher employees, for people to spend jobs must be created, such as in infrastructure. We have tried stimulus, and we have tried lowering taxes, we have also tried doing nothing; none of these have worked. Could it really be worse than what we have if we try both?

Opposition to the other political party has become so bad that lawmakers in South Carolina are fighting over how state employees should answer the phone. Saying “it’s a great day in South Carolina” is not going to hurt anyone. If the governor—whom the people elected—feels this will boost morale and provide optimism if workers to greet callers this way, why, in a state facing 9.9% unemployment would the legislators waste time and tax payer money to fight it? If the opposition really wants to make a difference, create jobs; that way in the next election they can point to their employment success, while the governor only managed success in sentiment. When the government does so little, and has an approval rating so low, this is a sign for revolution; in any other nation this would be the case. In any other nation the occupy protests would be occupy uprisings. Just look at Libya, Egypt, and Greece if you do not agree. But this is the United States of America, we are different. We as a people know, as if it is a part of our DNA that our nation will succeed. We do not need a revolution, though some are already advocating a re-writing of the constitution, we need hope, hard work, and compromise in government; the three things which made our nation the greatest in the world. Some things cannot be compromised, such as freedom. Some things are worth fighting a civil war over, such as slavery and secession, but our crises are not so drastic, if only Washington would read the memo. The last time our Congress was this dysfunctional our nation was shaped for generations as the greatest nation in history. God forbid we have a civil war, but we can hope that our government can peacefully rise from this same level of dysfunction to shape our nation again, if Congress can begin to function.


1 Jan, 2012

–Matt Young

About patriotslog

I am studying to achieve a double major in political science and journalism from the University of Kentucky. I am married to a wonderful woman named Sierra. I am starting this blog because I feel the political climate in Washington is carving deep canyons for our children to climb out of. Our representatives, on both sides of the isle, do not represent us, they represent the lobbyists.This blog is not to give answers, but to make people think. I believe the more we think about our ideas the better they will become; as opposed to becoming more and more intrenched in far left or right wing brainwash, where it seems nobody thinks anymore. I hope y'all enjoy.

Posted on January 3, 2012, in Patriotslog Articles, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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