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February 10, 2016

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Might Be Why Americans Hate Congress

David Valadao

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The media’s narrative about Congress is clear: It is unproductive, members care only about getting re-elected and they have failed to do their jobs.

So it should come as no surprise that Americans believe Congress has been unproductive, that members don’t care about doing the right thing, but only about re-election and Congress is a mess.

The average voter isn’t watching Congress closely enough to know how productive it is or how and why members make the decisions they do, but voters seem to have strong opinions about the legislative branch of government. Where do you think voters get their views about Congress’ productivity? How do they understand how members of Congress make decisions on legislation?

I have met the enemy and it is us.

Journalists and talking heads tell voters over and over that Congress is inept, even corrupt, and when we ask them what they think about Congress, they call Congress inept and even corrupt. And then we report back that Americans think Congress is inept and even corrupt. It’s a never-ending feedback loop that reinforces the conventional wisdom.

“Congress on Track to be the Least Productive in Modern History,” NBC News proclaimed on July 31. Three days later, this headline appeared on the network’s website: “Poll: 74 Percent of Voters Say Congress Has Been Unproductive.”

The Washington Post’s story the next day asked and answered, “How much do people hate Congress? Let us count the ways.” The article offered plenty of evidence that Americans have an “overwhelming distaste for Congress,” including a new NBC News/Marist College poll that found “just 22 percent of people would describe Congress as at least ‘somewhat productive.’”

The item also cited Gallup and CBS News/New York Times polling that found people had little confidence in Congress and believe that a whopping 85 percent of respondents think lawmakers are interested in serving “special interests” instead of constituents.

The article also cited a Public Policy Polling survey from early 2013 that found respondents had a higher opinion of cockroaches and lice than Congress.

Congratulations are in order to those of us working in journalism and doing political analysis. We beat the stuffing out of Congress almost every day and — surprise! — Americans think Congress is filled with self-serving jerks who don’t do their jobs and care more about special interests than their constituents.

If you think I am going to defend Congress, you are mistaken. I don’t much like the way things are working these days on Capitol Hill or in Washington, D.C., in general. I think there should be more negotiation, splitting the difference, compromise and log-rolling.

Issues such as immigration (to say nothing of the current situation on the border), tax code changes, energy and health care obviously need addressing, but Congress is unable to deal with anything that is the least bit controversial. Of course there is a problem.

In politics generally, not just in Congress, negotiation has come to mean surrender and compromise has become synonymous with defeat. And surrender and defeat aren’t outcomes the political parties, the ideological media and hot-button-issue-interest groups are willing to risk.

Beating up on Congress has become such a national pastime for reporters, talking heads and partisans trying to demonize the opposition that many Americans now have a thoroughly distorted view of their government representatives and why members behave as they do.

There are plenty of people on Capitol Hill who are trying to deal with the nation’s challenges, and even some who seem opposed to any compromise act this way because they believe it’s in their constituents’ and the nation’s best interests, not because they are trying to line their own pockets.

Interestingly, some of the people who rant and rave about the failures of Congress have been among the most responsible for its current procedural problems. Yes, I’m talking about both the hosts and their predictable guests on MSNBC and their foils on the political right, whether in the tea party or the world of talk radio.

It may be cute for PPP to report that 21 percent of people have a higher opinion of “meth labs” than of Congress, or that 26 percent have a higher opinion of North Korea than of Congress, but that tells you more about how people will answer a dumb survey question than about what people really think of the legislative branch.

And if you happen to think that meth labs or North Korea are better than Congress, I don’t think you are worth talking to.

There are plenty of reasons Congress has had a difficult time addressing the nation’s issues. Some of them involve the political parties and their leaders. Many are related to the demise of broad based parties, new technologies that undermine authority and leadership, and the increasingly diffuse nature of power, both in the media and in our campaign system.

But counting the number of laws enacted and harping on gridlock in Washington doesn’t inform or educate, and it isn’t going to unite a divided country. Of course, the voters could encourage Washington to move toward compromise if they wanted. Just don’t hold your breath until they do — and don’t expect them to be much happier with the eventual compromises anyway.

  • JohnnyAngel Advocacy Group

    Disingenuous ? Let’s be plain to Stu…outright lying !! Anyone with a semblance of how government works knows Congress “checks” the President. This president is trying to pass legislation that Representatives’ constituents don’t want passed. Then there is THE PROBLEM OF HARRY REID !! He has not even brought bills up for a vote on the Senate floor. Lastly..the GOP controls the House and when has the MSM & Republicans been bosom buddies ? So Rothenberg, stop playing liberal politics….with politics !! Go back to college and take up activism, then your beloved leftist president may have a job for you. :-)

    • Jack Everett

      The public wants a congress that works not a party of no! Your lame excuses always prove what the problem is.

  • Paul K. Adams

    This “Do Nothing Congress” should be booted out – No Incumbents re-elected as we can’t do worse. In my 88 year on this earth, I have never seen worse. 52 VOTES TO REPEAL Obamacare and they don’t even have a plan of their own. They shut down the Government and it took the Ladies to get it going. I am for throwing out the good old boys and replacing them with the fairer sex and we may get something done, so let us get out and vote this November and let them know what we think?

  • True American

    The problem is constitutional. The D’RATs are unable to accept the original constitutional roles of the House, Senate, and President.

    * the House has the power of the purse. The House, fundamentally, governs.

    * the Senate should advise and consent on initatives from the House.
    That means almost all bills passed by the House should be passed by the
    Senate (unless the bills impose on State’s rights – which never happens with the
    current House)

    * the President must sign all laws passed by the House (and thus by the Senate)
    unless he considers them truly unconstitutional.

    Not funding “healthcare” or “welfare” is the democratic, constituional policy freely enacted by the duly elected House. A Senate that refuses to “advise and consent” or a President that refuses to sign budgets have by those actions betrayed the constitution.

    • Jack Everett

      LOL just listen to the wannabe teabagging scum.

      • Fat Hubie

        Listen to the name calling by a loser that cannot win a legitimate debate. See you in November…

  • BackwardsBoy

    Personally, I don’t want a “productive” Congress, since each new law they pass reduces my freedom.
    And the chattering class in DC seems to have forgotten that our current Congress was sent to stop the leftward lurch of this administration.

  • JetsFan1984

    So Stu encourages hate of Congress. Calls them jerks. Stu is giving “someone” a pass for failure to enact laws passed by congress. Stu has been a professional apologist. He loved the 2006 congress that blocked President Bush.

  • Dey Dey

    “And if you happen to think that meth labs or North Korea are better than Congress, I don’t think you are worth talking to.”

    except these dunces are allowed to vote and ergo thats a main reason why we are where we are today…

    • Nobama

      They’re called “Low Information Voters” (aka Obamatons).

  • Randy Breitbart

    Looks like the press is ramping up attacks on Congress to poison the well in anticipation a Republican takeover of the Senate.

    They do collude secretly and plot their strategy, as we well know.

  • NeilS

    Democrats are willing to compromise. Republicans are not. There was a recent poll that demonstrated this (sorry, can’t remember the name of the poll.)

    Republicans who are willing to compromise will be booted out in their primaries.

    • Fat Hubie

      Liberals notion of what compromising is will make you ill…

    • Frank DiSalle

      “can’t remember the name of the poll”
      Well, I saw a poll that demonstrated that Democrats eat salty chocolate balls. But, I can’t remember the name of the poll.

    • Walter Bramhall

      Democrats idea of compromise is do exactly what they want

    • ojfl

      No they are not NeilS. Just look at the Senate. There is more bipartisanship in the House these days and it was supposed to be the other way around.

  • NeilS

    Here is a poll, though I think that there was a more recent one.

    • ojfl

      The poll reflects precisely what the article says. The media created the impression and is now reflected in the polling. That is the entire premise of the article.

  • Nika Khwikball

    Stuart Rothenberg the media/journalist sway one way then the other. It loves to manipulate and true reporting is always late waiting until the majority starts moving in a direction then here comes the media following like you have been there all along. Media is comprised of cowardice journalism merely capitalizing off the moment and never leading the charge only until REALITY is already hitting fast forward then you step out like heroes wanting to grab the benefits. “NONSENSE” Real journalism is not happening only SHOWING FAVOR FOR THE MOMENT EMBRACING ONE SIDE OVER THE OTHER. Media doesn’t expose issues (good or bad) to provide real BALANCE anymore. Media/journalism only tips their scales to follow the mainstream until it proves to be the wrong direction then jumps to the other side. Media is nothing more than social puppets with widespread broadcasting capability. Where is media covering breaking news before/as it happens? NOWHERE ONLY TO SHOW UP WHEN IT’S IN THEIR FAVOR AND NOT OTHERWISE. America would applaud and embrace real UNBIASED journalism to expose serious benefits for the people. Scott Cloran, Khwikball Inventor

  • kuvasz

    Stu, you could have included a House that voted to repeal a law that they knew beforehand that the president would not sign. 50 times. If that there is not a sign of nonsensical leadership, what the hell is?

    btw those acts of political masturbation cost the country about 48 million
    dollars according to the Congressional Research Services. That is the type of crap that makes people angry.

    • WhateverDunce

      Why should Obama get everything he wants? With the threat of veto, he’s just as much a problem as Congress.

      • kuvasz

        He won an election with more votes, the House did not. If you don’t believe in the democratic principle you ought to live elsewhere.

        • ojfl

          Were not each and every Congressperson duly elected in their district? If the qualification is that the president got more votes then why do we need Congress? And why is not Social Security privatized?

        • WhateverDunce

          That’s not the system of government we have. Obama is not a king. He is just as much to blame for our ‘unproductive’ government as anyone.

  • ojfl

    Interesting commentary. But it should have come a long time ago, should it not?

  • Iben_Hadd

    i have been voting for Republicans for 52 years, in that time I have seen the Democrats vote in The Great Society programs (welfare for all) Medicare, EPA, Energy Dept, on and on and on and on. None of this would have passed without Republican compromise (caving).
    Every day Democrats invites me to their picnic, I bring salami, hot dogs, potato salad, salad, mustard, ketchup, and desert and they bring the locust to devour. .

    • Pug

      The EPA was brought into existence during the Nixon administration, Medicare was expanded under the George W. Bush administration, all of which passed not with Republicans “caving”, but leading the charge instead.
      If you voted Republican for 56 years, you voted for all of that. Maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to let yourself and your party off the hook.

  • mixplix

    Tell us why Congress needs over 23,000 appointed staff? They come with different titles but are appointed, not voted into office. Google it yourself, (number of staff for congress) and while your at it look at the list of federal agencies, they are listed in alphabetical order and there’s 1300 of them, some of the titles will make you laugh and they are all drawing a paycheck provided by us and you can bet that friends and family of all the politicians fill the positions.

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