The United States Congress, that august gathering of unproductive over achievers who’ve wedded their love of power and unresolved desires to remain the most popular kids in the classroom, each with a PR staff worthy of Disneyworld, is on track to become the most unproductive Congress in the history of Congress. When it comes to Congress, who’s unproductive and who is to blame?
“Congratulations, boys and girls! You done good.”
More than one commentator, including this writer, now asks the question: “Who’s to blame for a government that is so unproductive, where no one can agree with anyone?” Perhaps the first answer would be the people, because, after all, it was the people, the electorate, who voted these guys and gals into office in the first place. Therefore, one might look at the man or the woman in the mirror, shake their respective fingers and cry: Why, oh why did I vote for that jerk? But, really, now, was the electorate of 2012 so uniformly wrong as to elect so many iconoclasts, misanthropes, isolationists, rogue mavericks, and fanatics just to ensure government paralysis and inactivity? Frankly, the laws of chance argue against the conclusion.
As for the term, itself, productive or unproductive, for good or ill, commentators base the measurement on the number (and not the quality) of bills passed by a divided government – where one party holds the White House, another holds the House and one of the two holds the Senate, or some combination thereof.
During Reagan’s final two years and the duration of the 100th Congress (1987 – 1988), the Republicans held the White House and the Democrats held both the House and the Senate. Divided Government. And yet, in those two years Congress passed a total of 713 laws. Decidedly not unproductive. By contrast, as of this Friday, this Congress with one year to go has passed 56 laws.
“Congratulations, boys and girls, you’re doing great!”
Perhaps productivity should not be assessed by the sheer number of laws passed. Although, laws can be a good thing, providing direction, order, directives and process; truth be told, most of the legislation passed is so far removed from the average citizen’s day to day life as to make it all but invisible and without apparent effect. Nonetheless Representatives and Senators don’t get elected just to appear on Morning Joe. At the very least they should offer up the appearance of working, if nothing else.
No, the sheer number of laws is not necessarily the measure of productivity or what it means to be unproductive, but it is a measure as to how these gentlemen and ladies, sent to Washington on the taxpayer’s dime, get along with one another, which is to say how well they can legislate, how well they can engage in civilized substantive debate, how well they can see and respect adverse points of view, how well they can compromise for the greater good.
With only 56 laws passed it’s pretty obvious that this crowd doesn’t play nice among themselves. They don’t get along. The antipathy between representatives from the Blue states and the Red states is historic, almost as wide as the gulf that plagued the failed Buchanan presidency in the years leading up to the Civil War. Back then the division was geographic and arose out of interests, some very dark and reprehensible interests, tied to the cotton-growing land, itself. Today the divisions are less easily limned along old state lines and Mason/Dixon’s fiction. Today the division is internecine, primarily local social in nature, and, if general throughout any state, then qualifies that state for one of two colors – Red or Blue, all thanks to some national news corporation’s 2000 election graphics.
People can agree to disagree. Perhaps the miracle happens when people agree on anything at all. However, an analysis of this Congress’s abject failure requires one to peel away the layers of an exceptionally ripe onion: The necessary surface analysis would review the subject matter of the bills left to flounder. The analyst would look upon all that legalese and attempt to find reasons within the legislation, itself, as to why the bill could not garner a sufficient number of votes to pass.
The content of the legislation would offer up its clues, but the extremity of this Congress’s failure is so great (the number 56 being an embarrassing outlier on anyone’s graph) that one must dig deeper for those reasons behind the reasons screamed from the speaker’s well and designed to hide at least one underlying and not particularly edifying motive.
The most powerful motive extant in the human race is self-interest. Start with the utter dependency of the newborn and the child’s needs for food, shelter, clothing and move up from there. For politicians self-interest is the “Ur” motive, the base, the floor, the ground, the raison d’etre, the thing itself. The only complication for a politician is that in order to get elected they have to clothe their self-interest in the garment of selflessness. In fact, a politician’s only as good as his ability to dissemble, to misdirect, to evade, to hide the pea under the turtle’s shell.
In the current Congress, teeming with self-interested men and women, who talk all the time about doing the work of the country, they do nothing while doing the work of promoting or saving themselves. Any analyst who surveys the respective self-interests of four hundred plus house members and one hundred senators might achieve a more accurate conclusion as to why Congress is a frozen computer resistant to every impulse, except, of course, the flight home for the holiday recess – but even then, it wouldn’t be the bottom line.
“Ctrl, alt, delete – please.”
The real reason Congress isn’t working is because Congress has chosen not to work.
From the moment Senator McConnell of Kentucky stuck his head out of its protective shell and stated that it was his primary duty to see that President Obama not be elected for a second term, the notion that the subject matter of any piece of legislation be a matter worthy of debate flew out one of those long, beautiful windows of the Capitol building.
In 2013 it doesn’t matter what the legislation proposes, though McConnell will get his pork where he can; all that matters, specifically to those Representatives and Senators who will not accept this President as President, is whether the legislation will in any way make President Obama look good. If so, it’s dead. Several Republican legislators wilfully have incurred and will incur the wrath of a country over Congress’s failure, because they believe that Congress’s failure will redound to the President. They’re also willing to take the hit from an entire country, because the entire country only votes as a country for the office of President, while their individual constituencies are smaller, local and sympathetic.
“They hate me in Manhattan,” the Republican Senator said.
“Then it’s a good thing you’re not running in Manhattan.”
A person will refuse themselves something they want in order to allow themselves the drama of summary departure (as in the “Take your job and shove it” school of job termination) or the baser of motive of mutually assured destruction. The Republicans have been playing at this for six years now. Their party (as a “brand” they say on Morning Joe) barely survived the recent Government shut-down, and yet they incurred all that anger and displeasure just to oppose and undermine a President they’ve yet to accept as the President. The United States Congress, a conundrum of unproductive and the blame game.
For them 56 is a victory, something to be proud of.
“Congratulations, fellas. You done yourselves proud!”
By Michael Hogan