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Friday, October 8, 2010

The Onion Hits Nail on Head

The satirical publication The Onion has hit a nail on the head with a recent (and funny) story on representative government in the U.S. The Onion titles its article “American People Hire High-Powered Lobbyist to Push Interests in Congress.” The satiric piece goes on to report that “the American people” hired a high-powered Washington lobbyist to “ . . . ensure its concerns are taken into account when Congress addresses issues . . . ” since “ . . . the U.S. populace lacks the access to public officials required to further its legislative goals.”

The idea, of course, is that with all of the special and corporate interests doing their best to influence elected representatives in Washington, the people themselves are left out in the cold.

This satire will strike a resonant chord with many Americans, who currently show the lowest trust in the legislative branch in Gallup’s history, whose ratings of the honesty and ethics of members of Congress and the Senate are at near lows, and whose approval of Congress is near an all time low.

These miserable ratings of Congress probably reflect a number of different issues and concerns. In part, it may be that the bad economic times cause Americans to be more negative about everything in society -- classic displacement. But I’m sure a lot of Americans do, in fact, share The Onion writers’ views that elected representatives in Washington are not effectively representing their (that is, the people’s) interests.

We have found consistently in recent years that Americans have significantly more confidence in their own ability to direct policy than they do in the men and women who are elected to represent them. This has always been an interesting finding to me. Members of Congress are supposed to be closely in sync with the people back home.  Ideally the average American should have just as much trust in his or her representative as in themselves.

The Onion satirically proposes that the American people hire a lobbyist to compete with all the other lobbyists pressing elected representatives for their attention. That’s probably not going to happen, although there are many, many think tanks and other organizations in Washington which already purport to be taking the public’s interests to Congress. But there are other steps the public can take to address the perception that their elected representatives are out of touch. For one, voting out whatever party happens to be in power, as we may be witnessing this year. For another, creating a third party -- independent of the two major parties -- in the hope that such a third party would more effectively represent the people’s interests.

Of course, many of our elected representatives most likely believe that they do, in fact, represent the people back home, or at least that they are doing what they believe is in the people's interests. The problem is that elected representatives’ views of what those interests are may not be in sync with what the people themselves believe their interests are.

Elected representatives face a daunting challenge. Many are sincerely doing the best they can. But by all available evidence, once in Washington, our representatives' focus turns more to the forces that are most proximate and seemingly powerful -- including party bosses, special interests, anyone who has money to distribute, and lobbyists.

Both President Obama and former President Bush have said that they do not pay attention to polls, but instead attempt to do what is right for the American people. The key question, of course, is how they determine what is right for the American people. Ignoring polling data that represent what the people themselves think and believe seems in many ways to be a strange way to go about doing what is right for those same people.

Gov. Gray Davis of California, just before he left the Statehouse in Sacramento after being voted out of office in a 2003 citizen recall (putting Arnold Schwarzenegger in place as his replacement) said this: “I didn’t stay in touch with the people . . . that’s clearly my biggest regret.” Members of Congress may, in the long-run, end up feeling the same way.


Anonymous said...
October 12, 2010 at 4:55 PM  

Here is an idea to improve on elected federal government officials actually knowing and representing their constituents' views on major issues. How about Gallop polling people in each state and district regarding their opinion on the top 10 issues the counrty faces. An example would be "Are you in favor of a compulsory balanced federal budget?" or "Are you in favor of reducing the size of the federal government by X% in 4 years?"

Then publish or sell the results to our elected officials, and to the constituents of all the districts (perhaps on your website)
As far as I remember no elected federal rep or senator has ever contacted me on my view on specific issues.Thi system could get our officials to answer these issues so we know who to vote for. Roger Pardo, Collierville,TN.38017

michal9632 said...
October 15, 2010 at 8:22 PM  

This is a wonderful opinion. The things mentioned are unanimous and
needs to be appreciated by everyone.
Savings Rates

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