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.

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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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Seven Steps to Political Empowerment

Real people can and should focus on issues, not just candidates.   Source: istockphoto

Real people can and should focus on issues, not just candidates. Source: istockphoto

Political Apathy is a Trap

If you feel overwhelmed and frustrated by our government leaders and apathetic about your own partisan destiny, there is a way out of your political malaise.

Here are 7 simple steps you can take to refresh yourself and participate in our democratic republic.

7 Steps

  1. Register
  2. Learn
  3. Vote
  4. Commit
  5. Engage
  6. Lobby
  7. Run

Register to vote

Show up. There are 45 million unregistered eligible voters in the country. Don’t be one of them. If you’re eligible to vote, register. 215 million US voters can’t be wrong. Locate the registrar of voters in your state or county. Fill in the form.

Tip: An absentee ballot makes things simple and easy.

Time: 1 hour Frequency: Once Cost: Free[1]

 

Learn

Get informed and stay informed. Find out who your congressman is, your assemblyman, your senators, your mayor. Go to their websites. Get on their email lists and follow their progress. Follow other political websites. Read political and opinion articles in major respected newspapers, listen to talk radio, watch cable and network TV debates.

Tip: Compare and contrast information sources.

Time: 4 hours Frequency: Once a year Cost: $50

 

Vote

Make a decision. Choose. Vote in every election you qualify for. Read the campaign materials and gather independent non-partisan information. Read the candidates statements so you are as informed as possible. Then vote. Vote for the best candidate, not the ticket, not the party. Remember, voting is private. If you have an absentee ballot, you can vote ahead of Election Day without looking for a polling station or disrupting your life.

Tip: Think for yourself.

Time: 2 hours Frequency: Every 2 years Cost: Free

 

Commit

Put your money where your mouth is. Make a small donation to your Congressman’s campaign. $5-20 is fine. If you believe in what he is doing, support his campaign. If you don’t, support the opponent or challenger. Remember, donations are public information. Follow the rules.

Tip: Donate small amounts to several candidates.

Time: 1 hour Frequency: Every 2 years Cost: $20

 

Engage

Take a stand. Engage where you are. Identify the laws you want to change. Talk to your friends. Then convince others to join you. Comment on a blog and sign a petition to support a cause or issue. Write your representative and voice your opinion. Attend a town hall meeting; attend city council meetings or a fundraiser. Serve on a local committee. Volunteer to help out on a campaign. Visit city hall, your state capital or Washington DC. Take a tour. Ask questions.

Tip: Volunteer, but only if you enjoy it.

Time: 2 hours Frequency: Every 3 months Cost: Free

 

Lobby

Build a coalition. Start by focusing on the top three issues that personally affect you. Write up your issue, your position, your arguments and your facts. Resolve your position, clarify your arguments and win support from your network. Expand your base, increase your reach and share the cost.

You can lead it on your own.

Lobbying used to be only for the rich, powerful and the connected. But now anyone can do it. Grassroots activism does not require you to join a single-issue organization, a trade association, pay union dues or contribute to a PAC.

You can drive costs down by sharing resources and costs with thousands of other people focused around a single common issue. With increased purchasing power you can have the same influence as a special interest.

The benefits will include less time, less money, greater mobility, ubiquity, increased control, and getting laws changed. Every day, everywhere, lobby on the go.

Tip: Be honest and straightforward and you’ll be amazed at your results.

Time: 15 min. Frequency: Monthly Cost: $25

 

Run

Lead. The world needs leaders. Run for office. Now that you’ve learned a lot and decided that you’re tired of someone less competent controlling the agenda, you should run for office.

If you are willing to serve and help other people then you will find that this is something that will become your life. You will want to do it all the time.

You will know this is for you because you listen to your supporters, you have the facts about solving real world problems and you are able to implement policy solutions.

At this point you will know if you have the political bug or not.

If you have issues, and friends and family that support you then this could be your ticket to political empowerment. Charisma and good speaking skills can come later.

Once you are in, there’ll be many people to help you to the next level. Good luck.

Tip: Don’t stay in longer than you need to.

Time: 8 hours Frequency: Daily Cost: $5,000+

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[1] All estimates of time required, frequency and cost are minimums only.