Published in the opinion page, as a member of the Community Advisory Board of the Holland Sentinel, the newspaper of Holland Sentinel.
Holland — Last year’s partisanship and politicking radiated Washington to an overheated crisp, but for some reason, Congress didn’t turn out so hot.
During 2011, Gallup reported that our nation’s collective approval of Congress hit three record lows and fell at a pace that, if continued, will see support disappear entirely in 2013 — an appropriate denouement to the Mayans’ impending apocalypse. Further, by 2011’s close, Gallup found that a scant fifth of us affirmed most of Congress’s re-election and that a pitiful 1/14th of us affirmed congressional ethics.
A shame, yes. But what’s new?
Very little, really. Since Gallup began assessing congressional approval in 1974, Congress has only sustained majority approval in the two years following the unifying tragedy 9/11.
One must then wonder: Who’s been hiring this ineffective body?
Oh, yes: We have. In the last election, the 2010 midterms, we affirmed our lousy legislature with a re-election rate of 85 percent — and that felt tumultuous.
So why do we disapprove of the Congress we ourselves have chosen?
National analysis proves contradictory, so let’s look inward.
We, the citizens of Michigan’s 2nd Congressional District, criticize our national legislature, and we, the citizens of the 2nd Congressional District, have re-elected our legislators — eight times with Pete Hoekstra, once with Debbie Stabenow and five times with Carl Levin. And when one of our incumbents quit, we elected his protege, Bill Huizenga.
Our consistency is understandable on a local level. Candidates have long achieved office by identifying with our concerns — of late, that Washington is dysfunctional. Some have even distanced themselves from the institution they sought to join. “I watched most of the last financial crisis, not as a legislator, but as a businessman,” wrote Huizenga in his 2010 campaign, “and I am adamant about cleaning up the mess that has been created” — by politicians, ostensibly, and not real men like himself.
Thus, while the rest of the nation has fallen for counterproductive congressmen, we’ve instated radical, positive individuals — or so we may think.
Unfortunately, we aren’t unique. In that December Gallup poll a majority of our compatriots from America’s other 434 congressional districts held that their member of Congress deserved re-election, despite the unworthiness of most other incumbents. Evidently everyone knows “the mess” is everyone else’s fault.
Tracing blame through the labyrinth of Congress is, to be fair, horribly difficult. But all too often we then evaluate our members of Congress solely on rhetoric like Huizenga’s. This isn’t wrong, but it is incomplete. For our Congress as a whole, we seek more than rhetoric; we demand action. And if we’re to realize action, our members of Congress must not only cooperate with us; they must cooperate with their colleagues.
A side of us knows this. Pushed by a recent Gallup poll to discern, Americans held by an almost two-to-one margin that the super-intransigence of the members of the “supercommittee” should have compromised more. Yet Gallup also reported that most of us didn’t track the supercommittee’s progress. Our hindsight was, well, hindsight.
We’re well into an election season that encourages us to lavish criticism on a host of “others” — other parties, other candidates, other people. But if we truly seek progress, we must negate this noise by assessing the leaders we influence directly: Stabenow, Levin and Huizenga. We must impress on them our longing for compromise, even if that compromise debunks a bit of their perceived singularity.
If Washington can rediscover its cool, we can forgive them.
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