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US Capitol Building with 3 Flags Flying

Fixing Congress – A First Step

By Marsha Shearer

“The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it.”
—Mark Twain

In order to fix something, the first step is admitting it’s broken. So… is Congress broken? A good measure of how well Congress is working is to ask the people who employ its members. That’s us.

In 2013, root canals and colonoscopies scored higher ratings than Congress, and its disapproval rating today is about the same as it was then according to The Hill .

It appears, at least in this one area, there is unanimity in a nation where its citizens seem to agree on little else. In December 2020, Congressional approval was at 15%. As of July 2022, it rose to a whopping 17% according to statista.com.

Think about that for a moment. This is the one branch of government that is meant to represent “we the people;” personified democracy in action. Ask yourself if anyone in the private sector who earned a rating like that, would—or should—be hired back. Yet they are. Once elected, incumbency is the major variable that helps assure reelection.

There are many reasons for this, including name recognition, availability of government goodies like free postage, staff, and office space, easy access to free media, and most important of all, money. Lots of it.

Lobbyists have invested heavily in existing members, and they sure don’t want to start all over again with new members of Congress. So, thanks to the lack of term limits, and the open purse strings provided by Super PACs and “dark money” groups resulting from Citizen’s United, they don’t have to. 

This is supposed to be a transactional relationship between the government and the governed. But with ratings like this, it’s clear why the Legislative Branch is called “the broken Branch.” It’s also one reason why so many of us have lost faith in government.

It’s been said and repeated that we are a nation divided and that in order for democracy to survive, we have to come together in order to work together to develop and achieve common goals. But for the nation to come together, we need better models than those currently being provided by Congress.

The first thing, and maybe in the long run, one of the most effective actions Congress can take is something straightforward, easy, and obvious and it wouldn’t cost a cent: simply change the seating arrangement in both Houses.

Currently, and since 1877, an aisle has separated the political parties, with members of each party sitting together on “their” side. This is one of the longest standing congressional traditions, but it only serves to further divide lawmakers. And to complete this silliest of traditions, Democrats and Republicans even have separate cloakrooms.

Offices too are separated, grouped together by party. But such an arrangement benefits no one and actually sets up and reinforces structural barriers to communication. These purposeful walls impede interaction and actually perpetuate division.

There’s no logical or procedural reason not to alternate seating with members of each party sitting next to each other. This simple action will provide opportunities for members to actually talk to each other and get to know one another as more than just a member of a particular party. And just imagine this: there will no longer be “their side of the aisle.” For once, we’d all be on the same side… which means there would no longer be a “side.” And who knows? Maybe even civility would return.

Wouldn’t that be a great model for the rest of us to follow. All of us. Together. On the same side.

Alexis de Tocqueville said, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair its faults.”  We can start with the easy stuff, a first step, and maybe accomplishing this will help make all the others a bit less difficult.

(Much of this article is taken from the Marsha Shearer’s book, Life After Trump: Seeking a More Perfect Union, available on Amazon.)

 

Marsha Shearer with book
So a bit about me. I enjoy working out at the local gym – especially when I’m done. I play lousy golf, garden – all the usual stuff.
I run a neighborhood book club – mostly fiction, and I’m also a member of a progressive reading group…we only read about politics and religion.
 I’m a news junky and I’ve always loved politics. 

Last month, my book, America in Crisis, won a gold medal! Thank you FAPA President’s Award.

4 thoughts on “Fixing Congress – A First Step”

  1. A simple idea that could eliminate division and save the country. Good piece, Marsha.
    Now let’s get rid of Citizens United which has done nothing to unite the country. It should be called Citizens Divided.

  2. I agree that your idea of mixing Parties in Congress by seating would be a good start. We need so much more, though. I’m sure your book gets into other valuable ideas to diminish the political division in our country. I’ll read it to see if it covers one of mine. My comment to all voters, press reporters, and politicians is to get rid of this concept that we have sides on political issues and each side has to do whatever is necessary to win. Debating and legislating solutions to problems is not the same as an athletic contest. Rather than listening to others and evaluating their thoughts and working together to develop the best solution, the attitude that springs forth is that our side has to win. And, after the vote is taken, one side always declares victory, and the press always reports it as a victory. Any legislator who always votes Democrat or Republican 100% is not doing his or her job. I look for politicians who stand on their own beliefs, not that of the Party leadership. Cheney and Kinsinger are true patriots. I can’t say much that’s positive about most other legislators now serving.

  3. An excellent writeup Marsha. It’s so true and sad too for our country.Your books sound like winners .
    They are on my list to read.

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