The Washington Post

Why congressional approval has hit single digits

At least the building looks nice. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

It’s hardly a surprise.

According to a new New York Times/CBS News poll, only 9 percent of Americans approve of Congress’s performance.

Congress has traditionally been the least charismatic of the branches of government. Compared to the Supreme Court and the presidency, there are too many of them and they aren’t required to wear robes to work.

But those shortcomings have existed nearly as long as the institution itself. If only 9 percent of people approve of you, it is a sign that something is wrong. This is fewer people than were willing to vote for Donald Trump.

Whenever anything goes wrong, people blame Congress. Even Congress blames Congress. And, sure enough, some would argue that this state of affairs is generally Congress’s fault.

When you put 435 people in a room, people who have stated on the record that they think that the system is broken, that their co-workers are grotesque, echidna-like creatures incapable of higher reasoning, and that fortunately they, individually, are going to turn everything around and Make Things Different, there tends to be a lot of yelling and not much else. And we are no longer in the mood for that sort of thing. In theory, at least.

We clearly don’t like whatever it is they’re doing. And what are they doing?

Well, they did give us that supercommittee. But “a committee with a super in front of it would still smell about the same,” as Juliet did not say.

Supercommittee? Supermajority? There is nothing we can preface Congress with that would improve it— with the exception of “sexual,” and after Anthony Weiner, that has been somewhat frowned upon.

A show with 535 lead characters and no plot movement? It would have been canceled months ago, even if Joss Whedon were heavily involved.

Forget plot movement. There’s no movement at all. The one objective that Congress was assigned early in the season — don’t make the budget situation any worse — they flubbed, spectacularly. And it didn’t even make for good TV.

It’s cat herding, except the cats are herded by other cats and have to be popularly elected every two to six years. This is actually a fairly long time, but not if you believe everyone In The Know who says that you must be constantly campaigning and ever fundraising, pausing only occasionally to vote “no” on some bill about teachers or biplanes or “general wastefulness.”

Congress’s main exports are rhetoric and gridlock — all very well in good economic times. But these are belt-tightening days. Barely able to afford bacon, we walk past the gaudy Rhetoric and Gridlock displays at the head of the checkout aisle — until Election Night, when we binge.

Should we admit that any problem with Congress — of all the bodies of government, the one most connected to the popular mood (well, it would be if we remembered to vote) — is a problem with us? Ugh, perish the thought. Can’t be. Must be something in the D.C. water. Next time I’ll elect someone who hates that process, who will be radically different, not like those echidnas they have now.

No wonder we don’t approve.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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