7/01/2007

The Restive States of America

My apologies for not updating The 7-10 for almost three weeks. Class, a new job, and a hard drive failure have kept me off of the internet for awhile.

Anyway, lots of news has taken place over the past few weeks. Thwarted and bungled terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom plus heightened levels of security in the US have brought terrorism back to the forefront. The immigration "compromise" legislation died a second painful death, much to the embarrassment of President Bush who said he would "see [his political opponents] at the bill signing." Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson has all but officially entered the presidential race and has rocketed up the polls. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is flirting with a presidential bid of his own. Congress's approval rating is in the toilet. Second quarter fundraising totals will be released shortly. The Ames Straw Poll is in a few short weeks and will significantly winnow the GOP field. And there are rumors that John McCain's candidacy is on life support.

What I would like to address in this post is Congress's miserable approval rating. Some of this is due to the fact that it's Congress that we're talking about here. It's always convenient to bash the government. Politicians do it all the time when they "run against Washington" or accuse their political opponents of having an "inside the Beltway mentality." So that's nothing new.

However, people generally expect their government to be competent and to handle the nation's business. But it seems like Congress is not doing that. While Congress is knee deep in oversight hearings, they tend to be hearings that are unrelated to Joe and Jane American. Despite the reek of malfeasance on behalf of Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the average person isn't paying attention to their possible transgressions. The average person is not thinking about fired US attorneys or Dick Cheney's energy task force or even Scooter Libby. Those are all inside baseball subjects that only partisans, pundits, political junkies, and power players care about. Your average Walmart shopper or school teacher is too busy trying to make ends meet to care.

I said that people expect their government to be competent. At the very least, they don't expect their government to bungle everything up. But that's what's happening at several levels. And people are being exposed to this inefficiency, incompetence, and infighting in a level they have never seen before.

News stations regularly talk about product recalls and consumer safety alerts concerning products from China. Poisonous pet food, children's toys covered with lead-based paint, cheap automobile tires, and now tainted seafood have shocked consumers and leave them wondering how these products are even allowed to make it to US supermarkets and retailers to begin with. Are there no standards? Who's responsible for ensuring that American imports are safe for American consumers?

The State Department announced heightened security measures and went to great lengths to indicate that visitors to Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean would need a passport from now on. So current and future travelers across the nation filled out passport applications in concordance with the new travel rules. However, the State Department became so inundated with applications that they were unable to process the applications in a timely manner. And then they announced that they'd relax the very rules they just implemented because they were so far behind. Did nobody in the State Department anticipate this? How could you create a scenario that would undoubtedly require increased manpower and then not have enough available staff on hand to handle the scenario you created?

Americans are hopping mad about the illegal immigration "compromise" legislation. They see illegal aliens marching in droves demanding citizenship and the rights that come with it. They see the strain that illegal aliens place on their communities and social services. They see the impact this problem is having on their schools and neighborhoods and local employers. It incenses them. So Congress creates a monstrosity of a bill that nobody read and is chock full of unbelievable provisions that offer illegal aliens more rights than US citizens have, such as in-state tuition at public colleges. This left a sour taste in voters' mouths as they wondered exactly who their government represented. So they contacted their senators en masse only to crash the DC switchboard. How could the government not provide a phone system that would be able to compensate for thousands of callers, callers who are represented by the people who created that controversial legislation? Or was the phone system really designed to keep average people from contacting their elected representatives?

Iraq is a mess, and it has been for many months now. The "surge" was supposed to be the trump card that would yield significant progress by September, but now the surge's advocates are playing down their earlier expectations, which leads voters to think that the US is simply spinning its wheels again. The Democratic Congress is passing non-binding resolutions with no teeth in them, the Republican minority seems to have forgotten that they are no longer in charge because of their maneuvering and fillibustering on the subject. And President Bush continues to dig in his heels whenever someone disagrees with his stance on the war. The soldiers, meanwhile, continue to come home in bodybags or serve longer tours while their families are placed under more and more strain.

And of course, Congress voted itself an annual raise. While it is technically a cost of living increase, it comes across as a raise that is most definitely undeserved. Is Congress tone deaf? The borders are broken, dangerous goods are entering the US market from China, Iraq is in flames, and the government at all levels seems dysfunctional. People are livid at where this nation is heading. Bush's approval rating is under 30% in several polls now, but he continues to govern as if he has a 70% approval rating. The Democratic opposition is spending more time on political payback and probing issues that don't affect average people. Minority Republicans are dragging their feet on the war, thus preventing Democrats from being able to end the war by cobbling together a veto-proof 2/3 majority.

This is why Barack Obama, Michael Bloomberg, and Chuck Hagel are so intriguing to the electorate. It seems that people aren't really looking for conservative government or liberal government. They are looking for competent, efficient, bipartisan, low-rhetoric government. And they're not getting it.

American voters have generally not paid too much attention to politics as of late, as is evidenced by voter turnout. But I think 2008 may be something special because a lot of these apathetic or uninformed voters have been jolted from their slumber because their government's ineptness is affecting them in ways they have never experienced before.

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