August 2014
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THE 2014 CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS:

SO/SO?, or

HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY AT A TIME OF CRISIS?

by

Peter Bearse

 

It's hard to avoid a sense that our nation is at a critical tipping point – of heading into an uncertain and undesirable future. That the great American, democratic experiment – a government “of”, “by” and “for” the people is threatened and might not survive. That the American Dream is dead or dying. That our children and grandchildren will inherit a country saddled with a huge dead-weight of debt and diminishing opportunities.

 

So, no matter how you slice American cheese, you end up uneasy. It's not very tasty and definitely less filling. Not that I'm a pessimist. Far from it. But when you listen to the news; it's hard to be optimistic. Of course, if the broadcast media didn't feature bad news, they wouldn't sell enough advertising or air space to survive. What it will take for our country to survive is another matter.

 

So, what are we seeing or hearing about the upcoming “mid-term” congressional elections?-- Nothing that would accent the doomsayer's sense of dread, nor anything that would inspire anyone to vote. Why so? I've looked for answers while scanning congressional candidate websites to see whether any of them would be worthy of endorsement by an organization recently established to advance A People's and Citizens' Congress that would not only represent “We the People” but empower US to play more meaningful and effective roles in what should be but is not now, OUR politics and OUR government.

 

One part of an answer to the question is this: Major party candidates are running typical election or re-election campaigns, as if there is no crisis, no great institutional problems to be solved. You can tell by clicking on the “Issues” page of one candidate after another. Sure, they make sure to have something to say about each of the media headliner issues: Jobs & the economy, the environment, immigration, crime, etc., blah, blah blah. But they miss connecting the dots among them. They don't try to ID the denominators that might link them. Even the few doctors running among them seem to think that they can prescribe cures without much, if any diagnoses of the roots of the problems they all say they are seeking to go to Washington to “fix.” 

 

Meanwhile, back home, most of their constituents seem to think they know what's wrong – the un- or under-performance of Congress! “72% of voters say Congress has been 'unproductive'...A study from Pew Research said the 113th Congress is close to passing the fewest number of consequential bills in the last 20 years.”[1] Historically low “approval” rates of Congress have also emerged from polls of random samples of voters. Over the past several years, these rates have ranged from 9-19%.[2] They have been matched by rates of increasing disapproval of Congress' performance ranging from 56% to 80%.[3]

 

A 2013 Gallup poll...found that, despite only 16% of Americans approving of the job Congress was doing, 46% of Americans approved of their (own) representative's job...Congress’ approval ratings have been in the toilet for a while now, yet for the first time ever your own representative is (also) under water… Some 51 percent of Americans disapprove of their own representative, according to a Washington-Post-ABC News poll released today (Aug. 5th), with just 41 percent approving...Contrast that with the job approval ratings of Congress as a whole. Gallup in July put that at 15 percent approval, with a whopping 80 percent disapproving. It’s been toxic for a while now — Congress’ approval rating has been under 20 percent since October 2012.”[4] [underlining mine]

 

So, we face two great disconnects between “We the People” [WtP] and those running to represent us:

 

  1. Between voters at the congressional district [CD] level and WtP nationwide;
  2.               WtP's feelings that “the system is broke” overall, and their Rep's and candidates-to-be Rep's recitation of problems at the level of issues, CDs, problems or specific pieces of legislation (bills).

 

No. 1 gap is familiar. It has been a puzzle for many years. No. 2 is quite new but no.1 helps to explain it. CD voters are looking for someone who can best help them and “bring home the bacon.” National issues may dominate the news in the mainstream media, but they'll only have significant influence in congressional elections to the extent that their impact is significant in CDs. Note the immigration issue, for example. The brouhaha over waves of young immigrants coming to America is a much more localized than national issue. The impact is borne by a minority of CDs. Nationwide, it is possible that voters may blame the Congress for its inability to pass a bill providing for reform of an immigration system hasn't been reformed since 1986.  Possible, but unlikely, because most voters have come to expect  the President [CEO of our federal government] to resolve such “national” issues.[5] The fact that 

the President and federal agencies have failed to do so in our federal system has led to a host of decentralized (state and local) initiatives to solve immigration problems.

 

The more important gap is no.2, for it implicates the failings of a democratic republic to solve national problems. These problems are increasingly complex and convoluted because they are not separable by CD, topic or constituency. They interweave and interrelate. Immigration, for example, affects agriculture, construction, education, economic and urban development and other aspects of American social and economic life across a great number and variety of CDs. To pretend that there is a “one size fits all” solution to the problems generated by the failure to find a national “fix” for nearly 30 years is to aggravate a more general problem affecting the ability of our democratic republic to engage its citizenry in solving any significant problem. This “more general problem” is the tendency to look to the power of the presidency while downgrading the more democratic powers of the Congress and, as well, ignoring the power of the people and their collective wisdom expressed and mobilized via a politics designed to solve problems democratically.

 

Closing gaps 1 & 2 is critical to national problem solving based on democratic, decentralized political participation. The junction of “national” and “local” lies in each CD. The nexus of national, system-level [institutional] problems and specific national issues lies in the Congress, especially the House of Representatives. This is the only leg of the 3-legged stool of our governmental system commissioned to represent and work for its constituents. Thus, it is the only branch capable of maintaining a government “of” and “by” the people so that it can work “for” them. Institutional reformation of the Congress, therefore, is sorely needed to repair the brokenness of our system so that “a government of the people, by the people and for the people does not perish from the earth.” Indeed, it is the “sine qua non” – the without which, not. These facts point to the 2014 congressional elections as among the most critical in American history.

 

These are also major reasons for formation of a new organization: A PEOPLE'S and CITIZEN'S CONGRESS [PaCC] – So that Congress can serve not only to represent but also to empower citizens to be citizen leaders.  It's website is: www.peterjamesbearse.wix.com/peoples-congress . It has been organized and incorporated as an 501(c)(4) that is operated as a cooperative. Our problems as a nation can no longer be solved without engaging many more citizens in their resolution. Our representative system needs a strong injection of direct democracy. As Thomas Jefferson understood: "The only solution to the problems of democracy is more democracy, not less."  

 

PaCC has initiated a 2-pronged strategy to generate a gradual but ultimately profound institutional transformation of the Congress – an inside/outside strategy. By itself, the inside approach has not worked. Congress has proven unable to transform itself. Many Members of Congress have tried but resigned in frustration rather than continue to play the insiders' games. Yet, this does not deny the importance, in any congressional election now and in the future, of:

 

n      Asking the right questions of candidates,

n      Selecting and electing some who see the need for reformation of the institution; and

n      Supporting those who are both willing to fight for it and transform the operations of their own congressional offices to demonstrate how a transformed Congress would operate.

 

The 2nd (outside) prong is even more important – the organization of citizens in CDs who would work persistently and relentlessly to keep the pressure on for significant change in the way Congress does the people's business, both during and between election years, within CDs and nationwide. Thereby, we also lend important support to Members of Congress [MoCs] who are striving to effect congressional reforms from within. We must continue to urge them on and support them.

 

The 3rd bullet, above, is the most crucial feature of the 2nd prong. This is establishment of a new type of congressional office, one whose main function would be to serve as an incubator and supporter of political activism. Obviously, PaCC-endorsed candidates who win seats to become MoCs would be able to take advantage of the average of about $2 million per MoC (!) budgeted for congressional offices. As national membership and PaCC financing builds, however, a subset of alternative congressional offices [COs] could be established in a growing number of select CDs around the country. Both the official and unofficial COs would become beacons, demonstrations, fulcrums and models of how Congress can better serve to both represent and empower “We the People.” They would  thus raise crops of citizen-leaders who, in turn, mentor new generations of activists to replace the place-sitters that now dominate the Congress.

 

PaCC is preparing to endorse new citizen-leaders for election to Congress in three CDs and perhaps even a few more. They will have responded to a PaCC survey questionnaire. See it at:  http://kwiksurveys.com/s.asp?sid=cshc52y9ot25i0d285543 .  Questions 10-14 indicate the new features of both official and alternative COs, starting with question 10: “What would be the major functions or activities of the congressional office(s) in your district?” A major function would be to seek out and organize citizens in each CD into committees focused on the most important, heartfelt issues facing both CD and nation. These would not only poll citizens on such issues but build up pools of knowledge on them -- bases for making recommendations to MoCs. Such committees would gradually replace Members' reliance upon lobbyists as sources of information on issues before the Congress. They would also help cut the gap between CD and national interests.

 

The mid-term elections are also critical insofar as they provide an opportunity to rid the Congress of some of the “royals of Capitol Hill.”[6]  It's bad enough that we have come to view the Presidency as a near-royal office in a country that was not founded to elect or defer to royalty. But the Congress? There's less turnover there than among Europe's monarchies. The ECONOMIST reports:

 

“Since 2012...30% of Europe's monarchies have put newcomers on the throne. By contrast, only around 17 out of 435 House seats – less than 4% – will be competitive in November's mid-terms...(so,) the House doesn't come close to matching the turnover rate of royals in the Old World.” (p. 25)

 

            The Founders of our nation would be rolling over in their graves if they could see Chart 1 of the article, titled (sarcastically but deservedly) “Isn't democracy great?” Ballotpedia [www.ballotpedia.com] has identified 29 “Battleground” CDs – those that various measures of political competitiveness indicate that they might prove to be “swing” districts in November. But even if all turn out to be so (unlikely), that increases the 4% of House seats turning over to only 6&2/3% – still far less than the “royals” 30%.

 

 The need to elect at least a few new members who can truly lead the charge for a transformed Congress could not be more urgent. Recall our review of candidates' websites: All of the major party candidates are running on the media-headlined, SO/SO topical issues. There's no depth perception. They all need new glasses to see what more and more of the “ordinary” people have come to see: Again, “The system is broke! [Senator Warren and others also say that it is “rigged”] and only “We the People” can fix it.” – to which we have added in this article: If and only if we have a strategy adequate to the fixin'.

 

In this light, we each need to consider how we can, each of us, play a role in “the fixin'” so that we don't continue to see a system that increasingly honors “the fix is in.” To start, it costs only $10 to join A People's and Citizens' Congress. But that is just a start. Your contributions of time would prove more influential than a modest injection of money. See the website at: www.peterjamesbearse.wix.com/peoples-congress for more.

 

Finally, it might help to watch for results of one of the fabled “Tea Party vs. Establishment congressional primary races – one that will be decided tonight in Kansas' Aug.5th Republican Primary. Why? – Because it helps to highlight some of the real issues at stake. This is the race of Mike Pompeo (R, TP) vs. Todd Tiahrt (R, Est.) in the state's CD 4. Mike is not rich. Also note that, before the Koch Brothers joined the Tea Party [TP] bandwagon and plugged in big bucks to support TP candidates, it had already become a national grassroots movement. Mike won the seat when Tiahrt, then an eight term incumbent, stepped aside to run for the Senate. Now, he's trying to win his seat back. Both candidates have received some money from Koch Industries and their employees [Their facilities lie within the district], but there the similarity ends.

 

Pompeo received the Koch endorsement accompanied by a statement: “

 

 
“KOCHPAC is proud to support Mike Pompeo for Congress based on his strong support for market-based policies and economic freedom, which benefits society as a whole...” This is unremarkable in a strongly Republican state.[7] What is remarkable is Pompeo's strong, principled opposition to the Republican establishment's support for a crony-capitalist candidate and his corrupting beliefs. Pompeo strongly and successfully fought to eliminate congressional earmarks, a major crony-capitalist tool. He voted against the Farm Bill. Why? Because it contained too many subsidies for big-Ag and not enough support for family farms and small business. He supported small-scale airports and aircraft producers without kissing the asses of the big boys. Etc. He was quite remarkably immune to crony-capitalist projects that would “bring home the bacon” – usually representing conflicts between local interests [Spend money here!] and national interests [Do more to reduce the huge federal deficit!].

 

Those on the left who rail against big corporate influence and the corruptions of crony-capitalism need to forge alliances with some of those on “the other side of the aisle” if the Congress is ever to be truly reformed. So, look to see what happens to Mike Pompeo as well as to some other candidates of whatever party or no party who keep faith with “We the People.” [8] Do whatever you can to talk up the critical nature of this year's “mid-term” congressional election. One reason we have gotten a “royal” congress that serves THEM more than US is that turnouts for primary elections have been so shame-fully low.    

 

Comments or other feedback would be welcome by peter@politicalcommunity.us.

 

         PETER BEARSE, Ph.D., author, International Consulting Economist and 3-time candidate for Congress – once as a Democrat [nominated by primary in NJ CD12], one as an Independent [in NH CD 1], and once as a Republican [also in NH CD 1].

 

 

 

 



[1]    THE HILL, Washington, D.C. (August 4, 2014)

[2]    Gallup polls of 2008-2012.

[3]    Gallup polls of 2013.

[4]    Bloomberg, Political Capital: The Currency of Government: “Congress Under Water; Even Members, by Derek Wallbank  (Aug. 5, 2014)

[5]    See Postell, Joseph (2014), “A More Perfect Congress,” NATIONAL REVIEW (July 21).

[6]    The title of an article in THE ECONOMIST of July 19, 2014, subtitled “House members have too much job security; that makes for bad government.” Comments following are based on the article.

[7]    But even TP opponents in Kansas need to be able to contest this belief on the evidence instead of relying on cheap labels.

[8]    BREAKING NEWS!: Pompeo won his primary race and so is virtually certain to continue representing Kansas' 4th CD.