It has long been the case that we Americans have a very low opinion of Congress. But, in something of a contradiction, we generally like our own members of Congress.
The contrast between the generic approval of Congress and approval of our own members is dramatic. The Real Clear Politics average of congressional job approval sits at 16 percent at the end of July. Some 71 percent of adults disapprove of the job Congress is doing. A number of polls have congressional approval close to single digits – a near-historic low.
But, inexplicably, most individual members of Congress enjoy approval ratings of 50 percent and above. They obviously need majority approval to get re-elected every two or six years. And most get re-elected time after time.
This doesn’t make a lot of sense. Logic says if we dislike an organization, we should be unhappy with those running it. We view Congress as do-nothing, dysfunctional and gridlocked. The Republican majority is not keeping the promises it made during the last election. Healthcare reform, tax reform, tax cuts, immigration reform, getting control of entitlements and balancing the budget are all languishing amid Washington turmoil.
And yet, in Utah we generally like senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, and House members Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and Mia Love (with a replacement for Jason Chaffetz to be elected soon). Sure, Congress is dysfunctional, but our members are good people and they can’t be blamed for the faults of Congress or their colleagues. And there are all sorts of mitigating circumstances, like a capricious president and recalcitrant Democrats.
But in other sectors of society, those excuses wouldn’t fly.
If a college or professional football team is losing, the coaching staff gets fired. Period. It doesn’t matter that the coach is a good guy, or that he faces tough circumstances, or that he’s been unlucky with injuries and transfers. If you lose, you get fired.
It’s generally the same way in business. If a top executive does not perform, he or she is out. The top leaders are responsible. There may be all sorts of reasons for disappointing performance. It doesn’t matter. Lackluster sales, loss of market share, poor share prices – you’re fired.
But in politics we cut our leaders a lot of slack. We see the complexity of the situation. Partisanship colors our views and loyalties. Perhaps most importantly, we don’t think a replacement would do much better. So we stick with our elected officials, despite poor performance of Congress.
Given existing circumstances, I’m not advocating that we dump our political leaders. I believe Utah is well-represented in Congress. It wouldn’t make sense for Utah to unilaterally take this sort of action.
However, I do believe we’d see some real action in Congress, some progress on the nation’s problems, if voters in many states, both red and blue, would tell their members of Congress: We like you. We think you’re trying hard. We understand the difficulty of your situation. Nevertheless, listen very carefully. If you don’t perform, if you don’t make progress on your promises, we’re going to fire you.
One state can’t do it alone, but if enough voters in enough states took that attitude, we’d see better performance in Congress.