Not a day goes by that I don’t hear someone complain about the government. More popular than baseball, complaining about the government is perhaps our true national pastime. And why not? There is never any shortage of material, never a lack of hypocrisy to decry or underhanded maneuvering to look down on. As unpopular as President Bush has been, Congress has been even more unpopular. The president is an easy figurehead to blame for all of the problems plaguing the political process, yet a closer look suggests that we, the American people, are more to blame than we would like to admit.
We Americans love to complain about the lack of turnover in our political process. Senators Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.; and company seem to have been in the system forever. A simple look at the 2004 election reveals that the incumbency rate in the House of Representatives is around 99 percent, and in the Senate, around 96 percent. Why so high? While a recent Gallup poll places Congress’s approval rating at 18 percent, the approval ratings for congressmen among citizens of their own states remain higher.
Perhaps, the problem is our inability to admit when we are wrong. Often, it seems that all a congressman has to do to stay in office is bring a bit of publicity to his state. Kennedy has managed to maintain his seat despite scandals as serious as a murder charge. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., was in the Senate for decades despite consistent allegations of racism. Both men have, however, drawn great amounts of attention to the states they represent and have never had much trouble being re-elected.
This is not always the case, however. In 2006, the people of Pennsylvania voted out one of the most high profile senators in Congress. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., had for years made a habit of making outrageous statements against the gay community.
“If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery,” asserted Santorum in 2003, a view which he elected not to moderate in 2006, resulting in the people of Pennsylvania electing to, well, not elect him.
Though Pennsylvania voters give the nation hope that poor elected officials can be disposed of, there are as many reasons to believe that the status quo will reign supreme. While 2005 polls placed Santorum as one of the 10 least popular senators in Congress, among the other nine, only Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, failed in his most recent re-election bid. Santorum was a start, but other states need to wake up.
What every U.S. citizen needs to do is pay attention - a lofty goal, to be sure. But if Congress enjoys roughly a 20 percent approval rating, it seems to me that it should enjoy close to a 20 percent incumbency rating. So ask yourself, what is it that you don’t like about Congress? What decisions make you angriest? Which bills do you find most unjust? If you find that your representatives are part of the reason that these actions are allowed to take place, then please, for the love of God, vote them out! I, a Republican, am prepared to vote against Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) for precisely these reasons: I would rather have a fresh face with which I may not agree than an old man entrenched in the system. If even half of the United States was inclined to do the same, the results would be self-evident. A 50-percent incumbency rate in 2008 would mean one-sixth of the Senate and half of the House were congressional newbies.
Sadly, this will not happen. But a boy can dream, can’t he? We cannot sit back and casually blame our government for the problems around us, because the greatest hope for change still lies with the U.S. voter, all 41.3 percent of us.
Shane Carley is a freshman in the School of International Service and a conservative columnist for The Eagle.