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Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



Voters sent a strong message on election night that congress needs to work across party lines and begin to get things done. No more gridlock. After all, the popularity of members of congress is at an all time low. Less than 10% of Americans think congress is doing a good job. Herpes and the chicken pox have a higher favorability rating.

New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for a fresh wave of cooperation. In his victory speech, he admonished that: “Both sides will have to work to get us back to where we should be. It’s a goal that I truly believe we can all agree on and agree to strive toward together. Because restoring this institution is the only way we’ll ever solve the challenges we face.” Outgoing Leader Harry Reid agreed, congratulating McConnell as his successor and saying: “The message from voters is clear: they want us to work together.”

“Throw the bums out” would seem to be the bywords from the electorate. But were they, and do voters really want an end to gridlock? Yes, most constituents have a low regard for congress. But if this so, why did 90% of both senators and representatives get re-elected? Because most voters feel good about their particular representative even though they despise congress as a whole.

As Chris Cillizza wrote on election night in the Washington Post: “First, they make clear that it’s far easier to hate an institution — like, say, FIFA — than an individual, particularly an individual you sort-of, kind-of think you know. There’s a natural tendency to assume your guy or gal isn’t like everyone else — how could they be bad since you voted for them? –and they are doing everything they can to make things better up there/down there/out there in Washington.”

Re-electing most members of congress is nothing new, even when there is great dissatisfaction with the workings of Washington. When was the last time any Louisiana member of congress faced a tough re-election? So the message seems to be, thrown the bums out in congress. But not our bum.

The national press is ballyhooing the line that a major segment of voters comprise the moderate middle ground, and they are hungering for congress to compromise and get along. But is that really true?

Most people I talk to, both in Louisiana and throughout the country, are firmly set in their political beliefs. Members of congress know they have to reflect the political persuasions of their constituents if they are going to get re-elected. If legislators dig in their heels and become obstinate to change, they generally are doing so as the behest of voters back home. If other members push a more liberal agenda, they do so with their constituents in mind. Otherwise, how could so many congressmen get easily re-elected?

 In a new study, “An Artificial Disconnect,” by political scientists David Broockman and Douglas Ahler, they persuasively argue that most voters are often further to extremes, left or right, than are the member of congress they have elected. The study concludes that any feeling voters want major change, particularly “an ambitious reform agenda,” is one dimensional. Their findings indicate that: “A voter’s ideal policy ((list of priorities) is significantly more extreme than their legislator’s.”

So if the average voter is set in his or her ways, and has firm opinions that are often inflexible, how can we expect members of congress to ignore strong constituent views, and water these opinions down in moderation? They cannot if they expect to be re-elected.

In other words, it is realistic to expect voters to continue a distain for congress as a whole, remain supportive of their own congressman, but demand that there be no compromise on what they firmly believe. Expect a lot of political posturing about problem solving. But also presume that gridlock will continue. As former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole said back in the 1990s: “Our intent will not be to create gridlock. Oh, except maybe from time to time.”

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com.

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