Throwing Out The Bums Won't Solve Congress' Problems, Or Help Us

When we claim we want to fire every member of Congress, it only shows that we fail to see the real problem with it.

United States Congress

Throwing out every person in this room will not solve a damn thing, no matter how good it feels.

As the government shutdown continues into its 11th day, people are obviously mad at the United States Congress.  Current poll averages mark their approval rating to about 10%.  While Congress has long been disliked by Americans in the last 5-10 years, this is a new low.  Now, a new poll by NBC News/Wall Street Journal suggests that about 60% of Americans want to get rid of every single member of Congress, and start with a clean slate.  That's a sizable majority.  However, throwing out the bums to the curb will not help anyone or anything, and it will certainly not help what ails Congress.

The problem with simply throwing out the bums in Congress is that it is an emotional and not intelligent response.  It is easy and cathartic, like wanting to punch a guy in the face.  No doubt that, from time to time, you have met someone who has said or done something so incredibly wrong, the notion of punching them in the face would be really appealing.  But the problem with punching that guy in the face is that, most of the time, he will not change simply because you punched him in the face.  In fact, he might become worse (or punch you in the face, and then we would have a brawl).

A similar thing goes with replacing everyone in Congress.  Yes, it will make us feel better, knowing we have done something to make our country supposedly better.  But who is to say that the new members of Congress will fare any better than the old members, especially since most of them are likely inexperienced?  Who is to say they will actually push an actual agenda that allows the government to work quickly and efficiently?  If anything, it might be even worse, given in particular the nature of the Tea Party (who may or may not split).

The problem with Congress, and with politics in general, is much deeper than that, for it is a structural problem.  The problem is that politics moves too slow for the modern world, and the media's own desire for a story, any story, that garners traffic or ratings, often results with pushing a general narrative and belief system rather than stories of what is happening in the world.  News should be boring, but it is not, because media outlets need money, and they only get that through ad revenue from high ratings or pageviews.  Thus, they create a general narrative that carves out a certain audience that guarantees viewership.  (We are no less guilty of this, as you can attest)  They can display facts all they want, but at the end the day they want the audience to believe what they say, regardless of whether or not it is true.

And politics does move too slow for the modern world.  Consider this:  In jolly old England, there was this guy named William Wilberforce in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Wilberforce hated slavery, and wished to end it in the kingdom.  It took Wilberforce 20 years just to end the slave trade, and another 26 to abolish slavery entirely.  In fact, Wilberforce died three days after slavery was abolished, at the ripe old age of 79.  While politics does not move as slow as they did two centuries ago, movements toward any political change that is not completely covered in emotion usually still move along sluggishly.  Consider that the first political actions concerning same-sex marriage began in 1991 in Hawaii, with discussion of it dating back to at least 1989. 

People do not like waiting 20-30 years just for their agenda to take hold, more so now that everything, thanks to technology and the Internet, moves very quickly.  Some would argue that this present the case for more direct democracy through people's referendums and term limits.  The problem with direct democracy is the same problem with punching a guy in the face: It is often driven emotionally, with little regard for the consequences.  Consider Proposition 13 in California.  That law, which practically destroyed property taxes, made people with houses happy, but it came at the cost of killing off most of the state budget, making it a struggle the last few decades to pass bills that allow the state to survive, and greatly wrecking the state's education system.  Term limits do not help anyone because getting any meaningful agenda to pass requires experience, and lawmakers are not going to get that experience if they're given a maximum mandate of only 8, maybe 10 years.

Changing things in Congress for the better requires something drastic.  One of the larger problems is that Congress is one of the few legislatures in the world that is schedule-bound:  Congressmen are elected, like clockwork, every two years, Senators every six in groups of 33 or 34.  Even if confidence in Congress is at a complete low like it is now, the public has to wait until Election Day every even-numbered year to get rid of the bums, and they may not be able to completely get rid of the bums.  In other democracies, a legislature can fall on a confidence vote, or even because the leader wishes for early election.  Maybe we should employ that, if only to force the government to be more alert, knowing their job could be lost at any time.

Another idea, not mentioned before, is to take the drawing of districts out of the hands of state governments.  Many members of Congress in both parties reside in districts drawn specifically by state governments (or more specifically, their state parties if they have the majority in state government) to insulate them from any political challenges.  Putting them into the hands of an independent agency without political affiliation, either state or federally funded, would force members of Congress to watch out for their constituents even more by being placed in more evenly distributed and politically diverse districts.

These are far-reaching ideas, and require a lot of willpower, time, and sacrifice just to accomplish.  But it is a start, and is better for America than simply throwing everyone out, which will accomplish very little.