Here's What's Wrong With Congress
According to the latest poll, 92 percent of the populace disapproves of the Congress' performance. The adjective most commonly applied is "dysfunctional."
Given the magnitude of congressional ineptitude, "dysfunctional" is a generous euphemism for conduct more starkly, and certainly more accurately, described as gross incompetence.
In many respects, a society is a collective of the virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses, feats and failures of its citizenry. According to one study, there is a strong likelihood that individuals are often incompetent to recognize their incompetence. (The stupid may not realize they are stupid, the intelligent will overestimate their intelligence.)
To be charitable, one could apply this theory to the Congress and excuse its incompetence on the ground that it shares, collectively, the individual's inability to recognize incompetence when possessed by it.
But that is to let the institution off far too easily. Incompetence can be a result as well as a cause of particular actions. For example, continuing to funnel billions of taxpayer dollars in subsidy to an oil industry that annually realizes hundreds of billions of dollars in profits would strike most people as an incompetent governmental result.
But is it a result caused by incompetence? The answer is "no," it is caused by money, that overwhelming force now driving American politics.
Last May, a motion was made in the Senate to debate a bill that would have stopped the subsidy of several billion dollars a year to the five largest oil companies which, in just the first quarter of the year, had realized more than $30 billion in profits. The motion to debate the issue was defeated. Of note, the six Republican senators leading the opposition had in their careers received twice as much in oil company donations as all 50 of the senators who voted in favor of the motion.
Where incompetent results such as continued oil subsidies are not attributable to money, the cause will almost certainly rest in ideology; and, despite incompetent results, that ideology will be clung to tenaciously lest apostasy creeps into the party's caucus.
Whether lowering taxes fails to generate jobs as promised, or stimulus spending fails to create jobs as promised, chances are slim to none that the incompetent result will be linked to the incompetent premise.
Unfettered private markets cannot solve the problems of education, health, poverty or incarceration; government cannot solve the problems of efficiency, innovation and competition in a global economy. There are areas where the demarcation of roles is clear, but there are also areas in which it is equally clear that government/private cooperation is essential.
Sensible government planning and action in a largely private economy is not a contradiction, and it is certainly not socialism in any reasonable definition of that term.
I would pose this question: Since hundreds of our elected officials have signed a pledge never to raise taxes, why shouldn't they all be asked to sign a pledge consistent with their obligations under the Constitution they have sworn to uphold? Namely, if elected, they will put their political preconceptions on the shelf and commit to finding effective pathways to solutions of the problems that now threaten the continued viability of this country and its claim to exceptionalism.
The facts are clear:
- We are plagued by debt, joblessness, and a stagnate economy.
- We spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined.
- We spend twice as much per capita on health care as the next-highest country without commensurate results.
- We have 50 million people on welfare for both structural and behavioral reasons.
- We have only 5 percent of the world's population but 25 percent of the world's prison population (for which we spend about $30,000 per inmate per year).
- In education, our 15-year-olds rank 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math among developed countries.
If members of the cognizant congressional committees were to start addressing these problems like adults, they might induce more than 8 percent of the populace to approve of their performance. Incompetence is not ordained. The continued refusal of those we elect to break out of the ideological, money-driven cocoons they presently inhabit is a plain and simple matter of choice.
J. Thomas Tidd is a retired attorney living in Pinehurst.
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