It's really hard to find an image that sums up an entire country hating its elected representatives, which I guess is why there's so many artsy pictures of the Capitol building instead.
You know it’s a slow news day when one of the top headlines is something like “POLL: CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL HITS RECORD LOW!” If you’re going to devote front page space to the fact that Americans don’t like Congress, you may as well also run articles like “SCIENTISTS AGREE SUN STILL MADE OUT OF FIRE” or “ONE OR MORE PRO FOOTBALL PLAYERS WILL RECEIVE CONCUSSIONS IN THE UPCOMING SEASON!”
Everybody knows that everybody hates Congress. Hating Congress is a hallowed American tradition – polls show that the majority of the country has always hated it since opinion polling on Congress started in the early 70s. In fact, the only time a significant majority of people have really liked Congress was when their approval rating doubled to 84% in October 2001, a time when people loved anything that wasn’t actively exploding.
And Congress is really easy to hate. It’s pretty much an exclusive club where argumentative millionaires get paid six figures to work three days a week deciding what to spend everybody’s taxes on. The rules of the institution require both parties to make nice and compromise if they want to get anything done, so even when Congress is working right they’re making tons of people really angry. And when Congress isn’t working at all, they piss off up to 94% of the country.*
*Screw the news articles about how many people hate Congress – I want to read about the 6% of Americans who actually like Congress. Who are those people? John Boehner’s children? Muppets?
People are even more fed up with Congress than ever, and in the upcoming midterm election they’re most likely going to show their anger by reelecting 90% of the people they’re angry at. Because as it turns out, the US Capitol is a lot like a roach motel – lawmakers check in, but they don’t check out.
In his spare time, the Congressman tries to bring mysterious meth kingpin "Heisenberg" to justice.
Since 2010, Tennessee’s extremely conservative 4th District has been represented by an extremely conservative Congressman named Scott DesJarlais, a doctor who looks more like the guy who asks to see your ID outside a biker bar. He’s so conservative that National Journal called him the 4th most conservative member of Congress, so it should come as no surprise that he takes a “traditional” view of marriage and has legislated so unilaterally against abortion that he’s received a 100% rating from national pro-life groups.
What did come as a surprise was the news that while he was chief of staff at a Tennessee hospital in the 90s, DesJarlais had extramarital affairs with three other staff members, a prescription drug representative, and two of his patients. He wrote one of these patients multiple prescriptions for painkillers during their affair, and pressured the other one to get an abortion when he found out she was pregnant. He also encouraged his wife to get two abortions during the same general time period.
This information started to come out about a week before the election in 2012, but by the time all the details were known in mid-November, DesJarlais had already won reelection with 56% of the vote. DesJarlais apologized, explained to his constituents that God had forgiven him (phew!), and paid a $500 fine to the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners for violating their “Don’t fuck your patients” rule.
DesJarlais faced several primary challengers this week, and now that all the facts are in the open you might think that the staunchly Christian voters in his district would’ve thrown their support behind virtually anyone but Scott DesJarlais. Instead, it’s looking like DesJarlais narrowly won his primary, and will most likely be reelected for another two years.
Think about that for a second. The pro-life community considers abortion to be murder. In Thursday’s primary, voters had six other conservative, pro-life Republican candidates to choose from and they still picked the guy who’s on record encouraging two different women to have a total of three abortions.
If people won’t ditch a philandering, painkiller-dispensing family values Congressman with secret pro-choice tendencies, there’s not a lot of hope that tons of voters will suddenly start caring about more dangerous but vastly less interesting bad behavior like insider trading and lobbyist bromance.
Recently Gallup started asking a new question in their Congressional polling: What is the name and party of your Member of Congress?
While 85 to 90% of respondents disapproved of Congress, only 35% could actually name the person representing them. So while almost everybody can agree that Congress exists and that it sucks, only about a third of them actually know who’s in there doing the sucking.
What’s encouraging is that this month, for the first time ever, a slim majority of Americans disapprove of their own Congress members’ job performance – which suggests that up until now, two thirds of the people hating Congress didn’t even know who the hell they were hating, and the rest hated everyone in Congress except the three fucking people they had the power to get rid of.
The past few years of political dysfunction has so heavily eroded peoples’ faith in the government that just about every politician is pretty unpopular at the moment. And the consensus among pollsters seems to be that many of these angry people are going to voice their disapproval on Election Day by not voting in record numbers. Which makes it easier for incumbents to get reelected.
Still, it’s kind of heartwarming that even in these polarized, hyperpartisan times, the people of this country can always come together to keep 500 or so people from losing their jobs.
Truman Capps knows nobody clicks on his hyperlinks, and that's OK.