Congress Serves at our Pleasure
Article I. Section I Of the U.S. Constitution states: All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
The U.S. Congress is a body of representatives of the several states brought together to consider and debate potential laws that if passed would be for the betterment of the United States of America.
The implication is that a potential law is presented to the members, usually through a committee and discussed and debated until it is either approved or declined. The role of the legislator who favors the law is to persuade, influence and convince the other members that it is a law that deserves to be passed.
During this process one or more of the Representatives who favor the law present facts and information and display how the law will benefit the country. Others who need convincing will ask questions and present objections. And so it goes. The pros and the cons are discussed and each side will try to win over the other. Each side attempts to create a consensus for their side before a vote is taken.
Ideally the issue will be settled on its merits in a calm, rational, respectful environment without animosity or rancor. Everyone knows, or should know that as soon as anger enters the process, rational decision making goes out the window. When members make personal attacks on individuals or parties, civil debate is no longer possible and the issue will be decided on something other than its merits.
In case our legislators don’t know it, insults, name calling, shouting and fist pounding is a terrible strategy for trying to win someone over to your point of view. I don’t know if anyone has ever been insulted into an agreement.
There has always been a fair amount of discord in the U.S. Congress, in fact our Congress is no stranger to violence. But, the relationships in our current Congress are at an all time low according to many observers. Extreme partisanship is the norm rather than the exception and it has spilled over into the electorate.
It’s clear that a legislator’s vote is rarely, if ever, changed by the content of a speech given on the floor of the Senate or the House. Votes are decided in backroom trading sessions, under pressure from party leadership or special interest lobbyists. The merits of a bill rarely affect a vote even if the bill has been read and understood. So, why all the negativity? Why the big display of combative spirit when it changes nothing?
Because politicians think the image of a fighter plays well on election day. Experience tells them that voters like a candidate that they think is doing daily battle on their behalf and winning over the forces of evil that would do them harm. Think of how many political speeches include the word fight. I’ll fight for you. I’ll fight until we win. I’ll never give up the fight. The more combative a politician sounds the more confident they are that they have your vote.
It is not just on the floor of the House and the Senate that partisan attacks take place. It is the rule rather than the exception that when a Senator or Representative is questioned on television their remarks are filled with criticism and blaming of members of the other party. When asked to appear with a member of the other party to discuss the people’s business before a camera, the exchange is often characterized by interruptions, over-talking and mugging for the camera when the other person is speaking.
We know instinctively that our elected officials will get more accomplished on our behalf if they are skilled at consensus building. We know that the ability to persuade and influence trumps narrow minded partisanship. We want the people who represent us to understand, in detail, what they are voting for or against and win support for their position whether in a back room deal or a public forum.
If we ever see the day when our elected leaders behave in a civil manner toward each other and conduct the business of state thoughtfully and respectfully, it will be because of us. When it is obvious that we reject uncivilized behavior our leaders will change or we will change our leaders.