McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

October 22, 2013

Increasing numbers of Americans are catching on to Congress

By Mitchel Olszak
CNHI News Service

— A new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll says 60 percent of Americans would like to fire everyone in Congress.

When I read this, my thought was: Wha'’s wrong with the other 40 percent?

It turns out, however, that the 60 percent figure may represent a watershed of sorts. Never before have pollsters recorded such a high level of discontent with Congress.

Significantly, these same surveys are indicating increasing numbers of Americans also are fed up with their own representatives.

For years now, general disgust with Congress has been commonplace. But for some odd reason, citizens have been reluctant to blame their local lawmakers for the mess.

That appears to be changing. And the gang in Washington is getting the message.

The source of all of this, of course, is the government shutdown, prompted by Congress' inability to reach a basic agreement on federal spending. Considering this is the most fundamental aspect of a lawmaker's job, it’s a pretty disgraceful outcome.

When the shutdown began, the Beltway crowd was busy pointing fingers at folks in the opposing party, trying to pin blame. Fortunately, the polls indicate the public wasn’t buying that nonsense.

So now we are treated to politicians seeking to sound serious and concerned, bemoaning the divisions in Washington and the need for negotiations and resolution.

Citizens aren't swallowing that either, because they're on to these scams. If the politicians really wanted to resolve their differences amicably and responsibly, they would have done it.

Instead, most people can plainly see that Washington has deteriorated into a morass of ideological drivel, where the national good is replaced with partisan pandering and lip service to special interests.

Voters can't escape complete responsibility for all of this, because the electoral process — particularly at the party level — has been taken over by extremists on both sides. The center in America no longer holds.

Essentially, too many Americans, discouraged by the imperfections of government, have abandoned it to the yahoos. I am reminded of the saying attributed to Plato: Those who think they are too good for politics are destined to be ruled by those who are not.

Still, the games go on. Late last week, House Republicans — reeling from revelations that the majority of Americans see them as culprits rather than champions — came up with a plan that would raise the nation’s debt ceiling for an additional six weeks, to allow negotiations on such matters as tax reform.

Now, the federal tax code in America is a complicated document, full of special-interest favors. It hasn't been tackled because these beneficiaries will fight tooth and nail to keep what they've won in the past.

Why in the world would anyone think that the two warring parties in Washington will be able to settle all of this in a mere six weeks? The nation will just wind up in the same place.

Such proposals are a consequence of the way things have worked in Washington for far too long. The parties have learned they can fire up their bases and generate campaign contributions with all of these concocted short-term deadlines. It's just another gimmick designed to string us along.

The next round of jabbering from members of Congress should go something like this: We're sorry. Please accept our apology for our inexcusable conduct in Washington and our willingness to put our political ambitions ahead of what's best for the nation. We realize we have a lot of work to do to restore your confidence in us. And if you reject us in the next election, it's our own fault.

Mitchel Olszak is a columnist for the New Castle (Pa.) News.