Yesterday’s Washington Post released poll numbers showing that most Americans do not approve of Congress, which is nothing new. But the Post’s analysis that the Democrats have “failed” after winning control of both houses last November was so deceptive as to imply a deliberate campaign to discredit their agenda. While it’s true that Congress’ approval is at a meager 37%, it simply does not compare with George Bush’s abysmal rating of 26% (and a disapproval that has nearly tied Nixon’s at the height of Watergate.) Although the poll even showed that Democrats in Congress are far more popular than their Republican counterparts, the Post concluded that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are losing political capital that they had fought so hard to gain last year. While the public has good reason to be cynical about what’s happening in Washington, you cannot conclude – as the Post did – that Democrats must tread lightly on Iraq. If they’ve done anything wrong, it is that they have not fought hard enough against President Bush.
Reporting that Congress is unpopular is really a “dog-bites-man” story. It’s an old saying that voters never approve of Congress as an institution, but that nothing ever changes because they generally approve of their Congressman. Whether a President is unpopular, however, is newsworthy – because public opinion of the Chief Executive can drastically change over time.
Since becoming President, George Bush’s approval ratings have fluctuated from over 90% in the aftermath of September 11th to a pitiful 26% today – a staggering turnaround in political capital. Still, the Washington Post asserted that Congress’ low approval of 37% “rival the president’s low ratings,” although Congress has always been unpopular.
With a Democratic Congress that has repeatedly voted to get us out of Iraq by next year, Bush is finally in a position where he has had to respond – and with his refusal to bend to reality, gridlock has ensued. Of course the public is upset that we still haven’t ended the War, but you can’t blame the Democratic leadership for this quagmire.
With a two-thirds requirement to override a presidential veto, Democrats alone don’t have the votes to end the War. And even when enough capitulated to fund the War without a deadline, a solid majority of the party leadership still voted against the “blank check.”
In the same poll where the Post claimed the Democratic agenda is floundering, 46% of Americans said they approve of the job Democrats in Congress are doing, whereas 34% said they approved of the Republicans. With a Democratic leadership who is pushing to get us out of Iraq – and a Republican minority who sides with the President – it should be obvious from these poll numbers what the appropriate action would be.
Incredibly, the Post even suggested that by fighting with Bush all the time, Democrats are a “do-nothing” Congress, alluding comparisons to the right-wing freshman Republicans who shut down the federal government in 1995 after a stand-off with Clinton. Evidence? Only half of their “6 for ‘06” agenda has passed – an increase in the minimum wage, the 9/11 Commission’s Recommendations, and federal funding for stem cell research.
But the Post then went on to report that before Congress recesses at the end of the week, Democrats are “likely to make good on their promise” to tighten rules on congressional ethics and lobbying, and to pass an expansion of the federal health program for children of the working poor. Getting a decent portion of your agenda in such a hostile climate should not be cause for concern.
While describing the public’s disapproval of Congress, the only reason that the Post cited – besides complaints that Democrats have not fought hard enough against Bush – was that they have focused “too much” on Iraq, while ignoring domestic problems. But it’s impossible for Congress to do anything significant about health care, the economy or housing until we bring our troops home. As long as we’re still mired in that quagmire, we will never adequately deal with domestic issues.
Which is why the Post’s conclusion that the Democratic leadership must tread lightly on Iraq was so nonsensical. Backing down on ending the War is the last thing that Congress should be doing now, and would make the Post’s report of their waning public approval a self-fulfilling prophecy. The public strongly wants our troops to come home, and if the Democrats were to back down on this pledge, they deserve to lose respect.
Unless, of course, that’s exactly what the Washington Post wanted.
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