Congress Deserves D But my Congressman Gets an A

According to a recent poll [1] the job performance rating of Congress continues to reflect a very low 7% positive job approval score. Why is that?

Why do we accept such poor performance? Do we think if they did more, worked harder, longer, smarter, they’d get a better result?

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Do we want Congress to be more productive and pass more laws with more pages? Even now we learn that Dodd-Frank has 5,320 pages covering 400 new regulations [2]. ObamaCare was a 2,700-page bill and so far has 13,000 pages of new regulations [3]. Or do we want Congress to undo some of the old laws that we no longer like? Would we prefer Congress respond to issues that we think are important? Or did we elect our member to vote the way he or she wants?

If the polls are right and 90% of Americans believe that Congress is doing a poor job, how can that be? Are we accepting mediocrity as the price of freedom? If we vote for the “best candidate” in our district, why are they so effective campaigning as a candidate and so ineffective as a Member of Congress?

Have campaigning and fundraising proficiency trumped their legislative ability?

Ask yourself, why do we keep electing the same politicians if we get inferior results year after year?

Is it because Congress is not performance-based? 
We know it is not a meritocracy. The best do not rise to the top. The best are not rewarded for their great behavior. Seniority rules. So incumbency attracts power. Power attracts position and campaign donations. Then position and donations are used to attract more support, votes and tenure.

Maybe we’re using the wrong metrics when we think about measuring Congress’ job performance.

If the pollsters are right and Congress is as bad as they claim, then each of us is responsible for continuing to elect poor performers to the Congress. Or are they accomplished people who are incapable of getting anything done because they have to continually convince a majority of their 535 peers?

Whenever I have seen voters with their Congressman they are always gushing, the voters not the Congressmen. They refuse to ask tough questions. They throw politically convenient softballs, which the congressman always has the answer to or he makes sure he can use artful circumlocution to wend his way out of a messy question.

Constituents inevitably are very polite. They invite their friends to fundraisers. They are delighted to contribute to the campaign. They seem to be happy with a photo-op standing next to power. And they vote for the same politician over and over and over again.

But when the polls come out, voters polled turn and complain that Congress is not doing its job. Well which is it? They are the doing the job we elected them to do or they are incompetent, economically illiterate, politically mendacious boobs?

If we look at the Congress as a whole it may only be as strong as its weakest link. So, we need to identify the poor performers. They need to be voted out of office.

In corporate America on an annual basis some companies cull 5%-10% of their lowest performing workforce. But if we did that can we expect superior performance from the entire body of Congress? Not if we keep electing the same incumbents for 5, 10 or 15 terms?

I’m not advocating term limits here as some states currently have. This sometimes has the unintended consequence of taking good, seasoned politicians and pushing them out of office.

But if we had a way to systematically look at the Members of Congress, compare them one to the other on an independent basis and discover who falls into the bottom third, it should make it easy to figure out who should then not be reelected.

Political party strategists focus on this but even poor performing incumbents with name recognition can still draw sufficient contributions to drown out a challenger’s voice.

So instead of supporting our congressmen and blindly awarding him an A+ and then complain about the body of Congress by giving them a D-, we should examine closely who our congressman is and ask a different set of questions.

What is my representative’s position on the issues that matter to me and what legislation has he sponsored? What committees or subcommittees does he chair? How much did he receive from his Party committee, the DNC, the RNC etc? Who are his big donors? What percentage of his financial support came from outside his state?

It might surprise you to learn that your district votes may be heavily influenced by media buys sometimes financed by out of state interests.[4] Someone wants you to vote for the incumbent so you don’t rock the boat. Who benefits from his incumbency?

What success has your representative had? What has he done for you? What are his key issues and are his actions really improving your community, your business, your neighborhood and your congressional district?

So if your representative deserves an A, give it to him, but don’t tell the pollsters Congress deserves a D.

Unless you are politically engaged, you may never understand how Congress earns a D while your congressman always gets an A.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”

So engage politically, and give your congressman an honest grade.

Take our free 7-day policy + challenge

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[1] Rasmussen, S. (2012, 13-Jul). Election 2012 – Congressional Performance. From Rasmussen Reports

[2] Harper, J. (2012, May 07). Inside the Beltway: Dodd-Frank=5,320 pages. Retrieved from Washington Times

[3] York, B. (2012, 29-March). Washington Examiner. From Obamacare’s 2,700 pages are too much for justices

[4] Megahy, F. (Writer), & Megahy, F. (Director). (2009). The Best Government Money Can Buy [Motion Picture].

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One Response to Congress Deserves D But my Congressman Gets an A

  1. John, I commend your enthusiasm. And I agree 110% with your advice that EVERYONE should be politically active, educated, and empowered to participate.

    There is a basic & obvious reason why the polls prove out the “A-for-mine and D-for-all” characteristic. And it will never change, until the nation (hopefully) gets beyond this period of deep ideological divide among the citizens.

    When I give my Congressman an A, it’s because he votes exactly how I want him to vote. I’m lucky to live in a congressional district with a 75% like-mindedness, so there aren’t many voters in my area who voted for the candidate who lost. I attend town hall meetings. I look online at how he voted in critical matters, and I send him emails commending how he voted (to encourage him to stay the course, if his view is being lambasted in the supposedly “unbiased” broadcast news agencies — ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, NPR).

    However, when people give Congress a D or F overall, they’re essentially downgrading the institution because of the members of the opposite party who are “blocking” the efforts of THEIR party to enact THEIR agenda. The two grades they’re giving (an A and a D) are an apple and an orange, John. They’re not related to each other directly.

    You talk about what “we” should do about this problem. John, here’s the thing: There is no monolithic “We The People.” WE is a meaningless word in politics if you’re using it in reference to the body politic as a whole. “We” will never all agree on what is “best,” or what makes a politician “good” or “bad.” Every one of these subjective words is a coin with two sides, and a totally different definition written on the left and right sides of the coin.

    Let’s take this paragraph of yours as an example:

    “But if we had a way to systematically look at the Members of Congress, compare them one to the other on an independent basis and discover who falls into the bottom third, it should make it easy to figure out who should then not be reelected.”

    There is no such thing as an “independent basis” for such assessments That’s impossible. It’s a unicorn, or a rainbow’s pot of gold. Think about it, at an individual level, John: As a politically-involved member of the conservative 40% of American voters, how in the world could I agree with a politically-involved member of the progressive 40% of American voters?? Imagine that conversation (aka, argument). Any grading system I would agree with would rate Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, etc. in the bottom 10%. Meanwhile, the grading system a progressive would agree with would rate those 4 politicians in the to 10%. There isn’t any “easy” way to agree on who shouldn’t be reelected.

    There is no unified “we,” John. Congress’ overall score will only go up after we (somehow) get past this era of deep ideological differences. And even then, the highest generic rating the Congress will ever reach is probably 50%.

    I think there should be term limits for every member of all 3 branches of government…even judges. It should be 12 years for legislators, 20 years for judges, and should remain 8 years for Presidents and Governors. I am absolutely willing (even eager) for that policy to push seasoned politicians out of office — even if I voted for them and love their performance. If my party doesn’t have fresh capable ones in the pipeline, then my party sucks and gets no sympathy from me.

    I would respectfully suggest that your refusal to endorse term limits means that you intrinsically agree with the “My guy gets an A, but Congress gets a D” mindset. You want to be able to keep your guy in place if you like him, but you want to figure out how to purge the bottom third. I don’t think you’re being purposely hypocritical (you seem like a genuinely earnest guy), but in essence you’re talking out both sides of your mouth if you’re holding on to your ability to keep your guy, but pushing for an easier way to get rid of somebody else’s guy. Since “we” cannot possibly ever agree on who’s good and who’s bad, the only way “we” can ever get rid of bad politicians is to enact term limits that force turnover of EVERY politician. I would be ecstatic if that reform were enacted. I don’t want there to be a permanent “political” class of elected/appointed officials. Of course, private citizens should be free to conduct their careers around the political scene if they wish, for as long as they want. But ELECTED officials, and their APPOINTED department heads should absolutely not linger and fester and stink up the place for as long as THEY want. That’s a career called “public parasite,” (no matter which political party they’re in), and it’s a big part of what’s causing the stench in modern America.

    Regards to you, John, and no personal insult is intended by my remarks.
    – Jeff

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