Voting is a cherished right in America, and though many don’t exercise that right on a regular basis, it’s a right of citizenship we take for granted.
Does a responsibility come along with that right? The responsibility to make the effort to become better informed before voting?
The question is pertinent, because, once again, the dichotomy between the public’s dissatisfaction with government and their attitude toward the people they vote into office has come into stark contrast.
A poll released last week revealed the unsurprising fact that the vast majority of Americans disapprove of how Congress performs. Eighty-two percent of Americans think Congress is doing a lousy job. Their dissatisfaction is spread equally across party lines, with the highest percentage (87 percent) of disapproval expressed by registered independents.
Only 11 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is doing its job, up 2 percent from the all-time recorded low of 9 percent approval just a month earlier. (Who makes up this 11 percent anyway? Are they relatives or employees of Congress, or maybe lobbyists? I know I don’t know a single person who approves of the job Congress is doing.)
Americans are so fed up that a recent Gallup poll found that more than three-quarters of the public think most members of Congress should be kicked out of office. The 76 percent of Americans choosing “kick them out” is the highest percentage recorded since Gallup began asking the question more than two decades ago.
But here’s the promised dichotomy: The same poll respondents, by a 53 percent majority, believe their own Congress member deserves to be re-elected and is doing a fine job.
What it seems to suggest is that most Americans don’t have the faintest idea what their own elected representatives are doing, or, for that matter, how they’re voting. Given the chance to “kick the bums out,” most Americans say they will vote their own bum back in.
It’s why term limits make no sense at all, and simply ensure a constant stream of new faces will take office, quickly earning the collective disdain of voters, who will then consider their own newbie not quite as bad as the others, and in a few years, the process will repeat itself.
In fact, term limits have the potential of making it worse, because those elected representatives who truly perform as public servants, working for the greater good, will be termed out of office along with those that regard serving in Congress as a surefire way to personal financial enrichment and an easy path to their next job as a highly paid lobbyist, consultant, or “historian” trading on their power and influence. (That revolving door between public office and special interests moves so fast, it’s obliterated the distinction between Congress and Capitol Hill lobbyists far too often.)
American voters are full of dichotomies. The federal government is too big and too wasteful, but don’t anyone dare touch federal funds given to local governments to spend as they wish. (And, far too frequently, waste as they wish.) There’s a logic disconnect when voters are sanguine about local waste and inefficiency, but rant at the federal government without understanding the connection between the two.
Cities are up in arms because the state of California wants to take back state funds (yes, state, not local) given to local redevelopment agencies for economic development, but seem cavalier about the frequency of the redevelopment scandals and corruption that local government allowed or encouraged, spending public funds to enrich private individuals, friends, families and political allies. Graft is scandalous in Washington, D.C., but apparently not so much when it’s local.
Voters believe the federal government spends too much (which it does) but they’re willing to give public, taxpayer dollars to private industries for the same work at even higher cost. Medicare Advantage, for example, is a privatized version of Medicare and it costs taxpayers 18 percent more than traditional Medicare — subsidizing private insurers’ guaranteed excess profits with public funds. It’s not cheaper or better, it just fits the narrative that private is better than public, even when facts prove otherwise.
Yes, we Americans are full of dichotomies. Perhaps we should all exercise a little more responsibility to be more fully informed as we exercise our right to vote.