The 2012 Congressional Elections: What were we thinking?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

With the Fiscal Cliff looming larger and larger on the horizon, people are complaining that it seems to be “business as usual” in Washington, that the election seems to have accomplished nothing. The Democrats and Republicans are still a good distance apart, no closer to a compromise, not really. Meanwhile, our lame (duck) President, rather than demonstrating constructive leadership, has said, “What the heck,” and is going for broke, both figuratively and literally.

If his strategy is to raise the ante so that concessions he makes later will leave him where he wanted to be, he’s dangerously inept as a poker player and is, as they say, writing a check with his mouth that his (our) tush can’t cash. My apologies for the mild vulgarity, but this is really serious business that the President doesn’t know how to handle. Note to President Obama: Just because you’ve been re-elected, doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing.

People are complaining, as I said, about business as usual in Washington. Well, “shut the front door,” we have no right to complain. None whatsoever. Why not? Because, prior to November 6, less than a month ago, President Obama’s approval rating, according to Gallup, was just 52%. Put another way, 44% of the people didn’t approve of his handling of the government. The other 4% apparently weren’t paying attention. Those are not good numbers, no matter what anyone tells you.

More to the point, approval ratings for Congress were at record lows. Immediately prior to the election, only 18% of Americans thought Congress was doing a good job – and that was actually way up from the record low of 10% Gallup reported earlier in the year.

So what do we do? We re-elect President Obama. Far more inexplicable, we re-elect more than 90% of House and Senate incumbents running for re-election. What were we thinking? How is it that we hold Congress in such distain, and then re-elect almost every Congressional incumbent running for re-election? Is the entity that is Congress not the sum of its parts? Why don’t voters hold their Congressmen/women and Senators responsible for the performance of Congress while those incumbents are in office? Can voters really be so… so shallow as to believe that their incumbent Representative or Senator is good at his or her job, and that it’s all the other members of the House and Senate who need to be replaced?

Logically, the American people, 82% of whom think Congress is doing a poor job, should have thrown the whole bunch of them out of office, all 435 Representatives and 33 Senators. Instead, we re-elect more than 90% of them. What’s going on?

I’m not sure, but it’s probably about choices and money. Forgetting about third-party candidates, voters have only two choices. It’s either the Democrat or the Republican. Pick one. Okay, so why don’t they pick the challenger, the one who’s not the incumbent? The answer is money. The incumbents have money, lots of it, and the challengers do not and can’t afford to mount an effective campaign. The incumbents win, the challengers lose, and nothing changes in Washington.

The solution is easier said than done: Get money the heck out of the election process. Not only will we have leveled the playing field between incumbent and challenger campaigns – bringing all sorts of prospective office holders into the fray, candidates who could never otherwise afford to run – we’ll be rendering the special interests, the ones who contribute to incumbent campaigns, impotent. Money will not longer determine who we elect, only ideas and legislative productivity. Wouldn’t that be something?

-Next Contestant

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