Retiring House Member: Problem with Congress is Stupidity of the American People
Bloomberg Businessweek is out today with "A Congressional Exit Interview", in which retiring Senators Olympia Snowe and Kent Conrad join outbound Congressmen Gary Ackerman and Geoff Davis to reflect on the state of affairs on Capitol Hill. The whole thing is pretty nauseating, suffused as it is with the kind of hand-wringing that passes for political courage amongst longtime legislators (it turns out political parties tend to be partisan!). But it is Congressman Ackerman (a New York Democrat) who, when asked about comity on Capitol Hill, gets the money quote:
Society has changed. The public is to blame as well. I think the people have gotten dumber. I don’t know that I would’ve said that out loud pre-my announcement that I was going to be leaving. [Laughter] But I think that’s true. I mean everything has changed. The media has changed. We now give broadcast licenses to philosophies instead of people. People get confused and think there is no difference between news and entertainment.
So there you have it: a man lamenting the lack of cooperation in American politics by denigrating the intelligence of those who disagree with him.
What's remarkable here is that Ackerman is saying out loud what many of the "the system is broken" thumbsuckers really believe: that their benighted constituents are unworthy of the service of our congressional philosopher-kings.
And yet what's the latest fetish for this group? Compulsory voting. In fact, if you're willing to go to the lengths of Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, it's compulsory voting with a cash lottery. Who knew that we could strengthen the nation's sense of civic responsibility just by treating elections like one of those fake giveaway police stings?
Perhaps Ackerman is right that the problem is the intelligence of the American voter. Since he's obviously enjoying his newfound freedom from political pressure, I'll look forward to him filing a bill to hem in the franchise prior to his retirement.