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Is Our Cynicism Towards Congress Justified?

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How many times have you said or you've heard someone else say "Kids these days"" followed by some condemnation of the youth of the day. If you're over 30 you've probably said that at least a few times. Are kids today really more disrespectful, less ambitious, less responsible, etc. than kids of prior generations? Or is it that we get more cynical about kids, and things in general, as we age?

Consider this quote; "What is happening to our children? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets."

Sound familiar? We've all heard something like that before. Who said it? Plato, the Greek philosopher said it some 2,400 year ago. I first heard that quote on the 60's sitcom "My Three Son's". Wise and sagacious Mr. Douglas used that quote to prove a point to Uncle Charlie (If you remember the show you are smiling right now) concerning his negativity towards the behavior of the youth of the day. The point was that kids have not changed so much over the centuries. Likewise, our attitude towards kids hasn't changed. As we grow older we just think that the current generation of kids is less worthy of our respect than prior generations. We get more cynical with age.

So it is with this backdrop that I began to wonder if the current cynicism towards politicians is likewise, unwarranted. Are we all just getting more cynical about them because we are all getting older? Or, are they really more ineffectual, more partisan, and more lustful and greedy than they were 30, 50, or 100 years ago? One thing that has changed, due to technological advances, is the volume of and speed with which news about political shenanigans reaches us. So is it that we are just suffering from an increased awareness of their exploits or is political rancor and bad behavior really worse than it used to be?

Based upon my own observations and my reading of a book review in www.futurecasts.com of "The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track,"(Oxford Press, 2006) I'd have to say the answer is yes. The authors, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, describe the deterioration in the legislative and oversight processes of Congress. They also note that "the situation is nowhere near as bad as during the period prior to WW-I"Slavery tore the country apart during its first seventy five years under the Constitution".

But lets move forward to the last 100 or so years. Remember the sixties? The partisan chasm over such things as Medicare, Civil Rights, segregation, and Viet Nam divided not only Congress, but the nation. There really was rioting in the streets. Surprisingly, Congresses of yore still managed to get things done. Since then, however, changes in legislative procedures designed to give the party in control absolute control, the growth of corporate influence, and the emergence of the professional politician have stymied real political debate.

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From the same book review quoted above, ""partisan rancor began to displace the civility and cozy relationship between the majority and minority that had existed during the long years when Democratic Party dominance was beyond challenge." Ethics charges became a weapon of choice in the post-Watergate political environment of the 1980s... As Speaker, Gingrich had centralized control of the House"he transformed it from a committee based to a party based legislature. [By 1998, Republican leaders had] embraced processes that set the stage for the virtual collapse of genuine deliberation in the House and fomented bitter and destructive relations between the two parties."

"The failure of the House to pull back from the [Clinton impeachment] precipice spoke volumes about the bitter partisan polarization that had come to shape life in the Washington community. Impeachment was just another weapon in the partisan wars, a further escalation of the criminalization of political differences." This in spite of the fact that ""Impeachment and investigations were partisan spectacles that a disgusted public refused to support."

So, perhaps we are more cynical about politicians because it is well deserved. As health care reform once again falters (remember "Hillary Care"?) it is we, the public, who suffer. "In Congress, they have a ""lack of concern about legislative craftsmanship -- that results in the production of poor laws and flawed policy." ""all too often, narrow political imperatives trump the national interest."

Until we get some real procedural and campaign finance reform political and legislative progress in the United States federal government will be virtually non-existent. The question then becomes, can our nation survive long term under such a political environment? An environment in which not only is there political gridlock due to obstructionist behavior from both sides of the aisle, but it is an environment in which the only thing they can seem to agree on is that military endeavors and expenditures are always approved, even to the detriment of social services, and even when it creates massive budget deficits.

It was that kind of environment that brought the end of the Soviet Union. Bankruptcy brought down the Soviets because they couldn't work together to develop a sane sense of priorities.

So, while our Congressmen act like children, unfortunately, unlike our children, our cynicism about them IS justified. What's needed then is to treat them like children. Put them in time-out. Better yet, since these children are old enough, kick them out of the house.

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A graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo with an MBA in 1980, John went into the banking business from 1981-1991. John went into the gymnastics business with his wife, with whom he has two children, in 1992 and grew it enough by (more...)

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