John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Congress Leading the Race to the Bottom

Posted on October 7, 2010

United States Congress



Matt Bai has an interesting column in today’s New York Times about what voters are really thinking in this election, and isn’t about issues. According to focus groups, what most worries voters is the decline of civil society and its impact on kids.

Bai’s point is that while campaign strategists might be focused on finding philosophical differences between the parties, as exemplified by issues such as abortion, taxes, spending and debt, what really moves voters is disgust with the process and with our leaders and a general concern about where we are headed as a nation.

As Bai puts it: “The focus group that met here in New Jersey on Monday included a bartender, a lawyer and a school bus driver. The dominant theme of the discussion, in which jobs and taxes came up only in passing, seemed to be the larger breakdown of civil society — the disappearance of common courtesy, the relentless stream of data from digital devices, the proliferation of lawsuits and the insidious influence of media on their children.”

And Congress seems to be leading the race to the bottom: “They simply saw both parties, along with the news media and big business, as symptoms of the larger societal ailment. And this underlying perception, that politicians in Washington conduct themselves just as childishly and with the same lack of accountability as the students throwing chicken casserole in the lunchroom, may well be the principal emotion behind the electorate’s propensity to vote out whoever holds power.”

It should come as no surprise that the country holds Congress in contempt. Congress holds Congress in contempt. Have you seen the latest campaign ads? They slash, they burn, and they seek to destroy the reputations of their opponents. But by doing so, they run down their own reputations.

Of course, when the candidates themselves aren’t seeking to destroy one another, outside groups are stepping into the breach to destroy the reputations of candidates on both sides of the aisle.

Campaign consultants, on both sides of the aisle, make millions in this game, and frankly, they have a lot of fun doing it.

When the winners become representatives, all too often, they take that campaign attitude with them to the floors of Congress. It used to be the case that members of Congress would treat each other with some respect. But those days have largely disappeared, with the Alan Graysons of the world, who accuse Republicans of being Nazis or murderers or worst, and with the Joe Wilsons on the other side, who call the President a liar on the House floor.

There used to be a tradition on the floor of the House (and I am sure the same on the Senate), where members would use the most respectful language to their colleagues on both sides of the aisle, even when they disagreed with one another. And because members of Congress spent time getting to know one another, those words were more than just words. There was real respect behind the words.

These days, that tradition seems to have gone out the window. Members treat each other with contempt. Their campaign consultants dig up dirt, the members themselves spread rumors, they peddle in gossip, and they all look for ways that they can become the next big cable/YouTube celebrity.

Is it any wonder that the American people think Congress is full of bozos?

The voters are worried that the country is going downhill fast. They worry about the collapse of civil society, about the disappearance of common courtesy, about the fact that their adolescent kids are never going to grow up. And then they look at Congress, and they see a bunch of grown-ups acting worse than their teen-agers, and they shake their collective heads in disgust.

And then they vote them all out. That is what is going to happen this November.