Do you despise Congress? (If not, you’re probably not paying attention.)

  • Published on January 16th, 2012

clown congress by bill day

By David Brin

Do you despise Congress?

You’re not alone.  The current Congress’s 11% approval rating is the lowest since polling began. Yet, because of gerrymandering and the resulting hyper-partisanship, people tend to support their own particular Representative, and to heap the blame on the other party.

Is everything just a subjective matter of partisan opinion? Are there  explicit statistical reasons to credit one party in particular with the present mess?

“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,” saysDaniel Feller, a professor of U.S. history at the University of Tennessee. In modern history, “there have been battles, delays, brinkmanship — but nothing quite like this,” says Thomas Mann, senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, in a book about Congress with a title that provides a succinct answer: It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. Mann acknowledges there have been worse times for Congress, but he reaches back a very long way for a comparison.

“There were a few really bruising periods in American congressional history, not only the run-up to the Civil War, but also around the War of 1812,” Mann says.

Ah, but as I’ll show you (below) things are not only biliously hateful within the hallowed Capitol walls. There is another sin that’s become rampant there… one never reported in the press, but in some ways more contemptible than any other.

Comparison to the “merely” insane 1990s

I have long pointed out that Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution of 1995 started out with some impressive activity.  Part of it was disturbing, like the banishing of all scientific advisory staff from Congress, freeing right-wing members to simply declare any facts they felt like uttering. This action was an early harbinger of what became today’s pyrotechnic, outright and open War on Science.

On the other hand, Newt’s initial negotiation of Welfare Reform and budget balancing measures with President Clinton had stunningly impressive results. In fact, those two major accomplishments should have demonstrated conclusively what can be achieved for the national good by pragmatic people negotiating mixed methods to solve problems.

In 1995 Newt and other Republican intellectuals proposed a Health Care plan that later became the  template both for RomneyCare in Massachusetts and ObamaCare in 2009. The main features – Insurance changes combined with a required individual mandate – were at the time offered as a market alternative to the more European style “HillaryCare” that the democrats proposed.  Still, the Republicans under Gingrich, in the 1990s, appeared to (occasionally) want to deliberate, negotiate, dicker, come up with some way to move ahead.

It was in that spirit that Barack Obama based his Health Care Plan entirely upon the Republicans’ earlier proposal. Let’s make that even plainer… the “socialist” ObamaCare bill is almost identical to the Gingrich proposal that was in the Republican Party platform for a decade and that Romney instituted in his state. If that isn’t negotiation, I don’t know what is. But… of course… by then the GOP had moved on.

->> Next page: The Era of Absolute-No Begins 

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