The other day, The Monkey Cage featured a post called “Why Does Congress Flail? Voters Reward Positions More than Success.” As the title implies, the premise of the post was that the US Congress has been relatively ineffective in passing major legislation of late because its members know that their jobs depend, not on passing bills into law, but on striking poses that resonate with the ideological leanings of their constituents.
In a comment, I challenged the first part of the premise. In the last ten years, the US Congress has in fact passed a great deal of major legislation, changing American government and American life far more profoundly than in almost any other epoch of US history. Among this legislation are bills funding several wars, permitting the president to wiretap virtually anyone he likes, maintaining indefinite detention of persons accused of terrorism, creating the Department of Homeland Security, formalizing a variety of terrorism watch-lists, adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, requiring citizens to buy health insurance, dramatically expanding the federal role in education, handing a trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money to Goldman Sachs and companies friendly to it, and repeatedly cutting taxes on the largest incomes, to name just a few measures with vast ramifications. It’s true that members of congress rarely cite these achievements in their reelection bids. That isn’t because they are unimportant, but because none of them is at all popular. If these acts constitute “success,” then it is no wonder voters don’t reward it. Rather, it is a mystery that voters don’t punish such “success” by deserting both the Republican and Democratic parties, and replacing their entire set of political leaders.
Yet one still hears Americans who wish to be regarded as “moderate,” or “centrist,” or “responsible” say that top elected officials in Washington should stop battling with each other so that they can be more effective at “getting things done.” I’ve found that the people who say this seem puzzled when I point out how much has “gotten done” in Washington since 2001 . What seems equally difficult for them to grasp is the point Tom Tomorrow makes in this cartoon::