2006-06-23 / On Second Thought

It's not a criticism, it's an observation.

Congress in action
Mike Cox

Last week, American citizens got the opportunity to see something that is becoming more commonplace, but is still stirring to watch. The United States Congress spent a couple of days doing what it does best. Getting re-elected.

With the drug epidemic under control, the national deficit erased, Social Security solidified, national health care a reality, the oil crisis resolved, and crooked legislators and lobbyists obliterated, Congress turned its attention to something really important. The process gave me chills.

Last Friday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution to reject setting a deadline for removing troops from Iraq. The Senate did the same thing the day before. Although the resolutions don't actually do anything, it is of monumental importance to members of Congress.

With President Bush's popularity plummeting each week, and elections coming in November, Republicans have been worried about losing the stranglehold they now have on national government. If they lose a few seats in either house this fall, the Democrats could enjoy a majority for the first time since the mid '90s. Just think how bad things could get if that happens. At least for Republicans.

But the GOP leadership proved why they have remained in control for such a long time by initiating this legislation. No one has to do anything, the action won't cost any money, but the candidates running for office in November will have instant credibility with the folks concerned about the War on Terror.

By voting to not do what no one was trying to do anyway, the congressional body can now use their position in this resolution as campaign ad material in November, and cause trouble for anyone who voted the wrong way.

Within minutes of the vote, the Republican Advocacy Committee sent a mass email claiming that Rep. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Harold Ford had voted to "cut and run" by opposing the legislation. Both are running against incumbent Republicans in November.

Thomas Mann, of the Brookings Institution, said the legislation was "explicitly political" and made a mockery of legislative process. He doesn't know much about American voters.

Everyone running for office, especially national office, understands how voters think. That's why we have enormously popular resolutions that don't actually address a real problem. If members of Congress thought endorsing Mothers would gain a few votes, they would do it in a heartbeat. Support for the flag has been attempted more than once, and I'm sure apple pie has been discussed.

No one worries whether the work involved passing useless legislation is wasteful; voters have short memories. When the next election rolls around, we will be too busy to research candidates. Voters rely on 30 second ads to determine who we want to run the country.

Partisanship, sound bites, and divisive non-issues now control how the few Americans who still bother to vote cast their ballots. And elected officials understand this very well. So I hope you woke up long enough to witness Democracy in action last week. It was a thrilling spectacle.

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