By Shep Gerszberg
The United States Congress is one of the most heavily criticized bodies in the world.
Attacked for its partisanship, its stagnation, its procrastination, its lack of action, and its corruption, calls for reform come every day with increasingly radical propositions being made ranging from calls for simple redistricting reforms, term limits, and calls to completely change the nature of congress due to its inability to pass anything.
But are these proposed solutions necessary, is there even a problem to be solved here, or is this simply a case of attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
The truth is that Congress is functioning as intended, it isn’t excessively stagnant, it isn’t too corrupt, and so while some measures to prevent gerrymandering are appropriate, things like campaign finance reform and term limits are not needed and would merely serve to inhibit political freedom.
I am not going to stand here and claim that Congress is efficient, that bills get passed in a timely manner to solve problems that plague Americans, nor am I going to claim that every member of Congress is pure and just, those claims would be obvious falsehoods.
But Congress is inept and does not get anything done because it represents disparate interests from all over the country. We all have different needs and beliefs.
People from Alabama are not going to have the same political stances as people from New York, nor do they have the same needs, jobs, interests, etc. That is why nothing passes. Congress is where all the different beliefs from all over the country come together, of course it’s going to be slow to pass anything with a wide scope because things with wide scopes need to have support from multiple parts of the country to pass through congress and that is a rare event.
This is part of why term limits are so ridiculous. In the words of President Josiah Bartlett from “The West Wing”: We have term limits, they are called elections. If you ask most people in a democratic district if they like their elected official, they will say yes; the reverse also applies, if you ask most republicans in a republican district if they like their elected official they will also say yes.
It is other people’s elected officials that they have an issue with. Other people’s elected officials that they say are “out of touch,” “inept,” or “corrupt.
But that is how the system is intended to work! People from Alabama are not intended to agree with the elected officials from New York and people from New York are not intended to agree with the elected officials from Alabama. It would be nice if they did, partisanship is a plague on our political system and I wish people from both sides could get along, but its not necessarily how our system is intended to function.
The truth is that congress is functioning exactly as intended. It was made so that people from all over the country have their voices heard, Congress is not representative based on population but rather geography. This allows the interests and needs of rural America to be heard, even when cities hold most of the population. This prevents tyranny of the majority.
The opposing claim, that this leads to tyranny by the minority, is ridiculous. Do you see federally mandated open carry laws? Easily passed tax reform laws? How about the repeal of Obamacare? No. Evidently there is no tyranny of the minority.
So then the question becomes where should governing get done. If Congress is naturally inefficient, then how do the laws that need to get passed, get passed?
The answer is evident if you look at the nature of our democracy through federalism.
We need to start looking towards our local governments to implement the laws we want passed. Local governments better understand the needs of their constituents; they better understand the local politics and local culture. They can run local education better, they can make decisions on things like drug policy and gun policy better. Local government was intended to do most of the day to day governance for most people.
Yet tragically, while almost everyone can name their senators, and most people can name their congressmen, almost nobody can name their local representatives. Nobody lobbies or contacts their local representatives unless they need something specific. Everyone just turns to the federal government to do most of the governing, and it was never meant to do that.
We need to gain a renewed focus on local government, lobby them to do more to help people on a day to day basis, work with our local representatives to pass bills, and realize that we are asking efficiency from a Congress that was never intended to have it. Only once we have a more realistic view of what each part of our government can and should do will we be able to properly criticize and work with that government as citizens of this great country.