Why do Americans prefer cockroaches to Congress?..

A nice question posed by Steven Mazie at bigthink.com. A public poll by an agency shows people ranking Congree even worse than cockroaches, traffic jams etc.

Mazie wonders why:

OK, the poll’s comparison of incommensurables is a touch ludicrous. But the upshot is clear: Americans aren’t very happy with the job Congress is doing. Ezra Klein wished the 112th Congress — now officially the least productive assemblage of legislators the country has even seen— “goodbye and good riddance” last week, along with the following graph.

What is going on here? How could the popularly elected legislative branch of the national government be so deeply, broadly and relentlessly unpopular? Yes, it has something to do with several near-disasters and a few grave mistakes, including the debt ceiling debacle in 2011 and the barely averted dive off the fiscal cliff at the end of 2012. Americans’ ire at Congress could be inspired by the body’s seeming inability to do anything, by its mode of partisan posturing, by its members’ seeming disregard for the common interest of the nation.

But none of these reasons explains the enduring quality of the unpopularity. Ezra Klein points out that the previous Congress was a lot more productive than the 112th.

The  Congress unpopularity is rising:

Jean-Jacques Rousseau might say that Congress has become more and more unpopular as Americans have begun to appreciate its basic illegitimacy as a law-making institution. For Rousseau, true political freedom is only found when each citizen is an active participant in the law-making process of a society. If people are to live harmoniously and autonomously, they must all have a direct role in public affairs. Voting for “representatives” to do the job for us is no substitute. In fact, it is a recipe for slavery:

Every law the people has not ratified in person is null and void— is, in fact, not a law. The people of England regards itself as free; but it is grossly mistaken; it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing. The use it makes of the short moments of liberty it enjoys shows indeed that it deserves to lose them.

Maybe we’re getting what we deserve after all these years of selling ourselves to our representatives in Congress. It’s difficult to imagine a viable alternative — other than in small, local experiments, direct democracy seems out of the question for the 311 million members of the American polity. One ironic possibility, which I develop at the Economist today, is to empower House members with longer terms in office. There is strong evidence that frequent elections only exacerbate the travesty of Washington’s legislative slug-fest.

In any case, Rousseau’s complaints about representative government have never rung so true. We elect Congress, and yet we hold cockroaches in higher esteem.

I am sure the same applies to India as well. The polls here are mostly sober which simply look at popularity of the current govt. vs opposition and Prime Ministerial candidate choices and so on.

Would be interesting to see the adjectives people have for our Parliamentarians…


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