Voting for a member of Congress? Why bother?

You’ll vote for a person who will put the interests of the monied few above yours

Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Post that over every voting booth next week. Hope and change, promised most recently by our current president and in different verbiage by politicians everywhere since I was born, do not lie ahead. Unless you are a rabid, frothing Democrat or Republican obsessed with ideological purity and achieving a stranglehold on power, choosing a member of Congress, for most of us, represents futility in the hope-and-change department.

I just don’t give a damn any more about Congress. It doesn’t give a damn about me — and most of you. Congress has amply demonstrated for at least two decades its grotesque inability to intelligently and compassionately perform its principal duties — to legislate fairly, to levy taxes sensibly, to advise and consent wisely on treaties and executive branch appointments, and to produce budgets competently.

I have remained rationally ignorant about the coming multi-billion-dollar partisan apocalypse. That’s because no matter who controls the chambers of Capitol Hill, Congress will produce nothing meaningful that will positively affect the remainder of my life. Or yours.

Why won’t that happen?

Congress has become a self-perpetuating, integrated system of bribery and extortion fueled by amounts of money mere mortals can no longer comprehend. Congress is inhabited by men and women who are at worst corrupt or at best willing, perhaps eager, to embrace moral ambiguity. In an institution populated by 535 powerful men and women who are supposed to legislate for the benefit of all, moral clarity is difficult to find. Result: The few get more; the many get less. Much less.

The money spent to elect a Congress is immense

2014 will see the most expensive mid-term election ever. More than $4 billion will be spent to elect people with flexible moral sensibilities. Many will not be sufficiently intelligent to prevent further descent into the immoral and amoral morass that is the modern Congress. But they’ll have the money, so they’ll ascend to Capitol Hill.

In North Carolina, the Senate race has become the first to cost more than $100 million. But the more important fact? This race will produce the largest amount of money spent by interests from outside the state hoping to achieve a desired winner.

That pattern has grown dramatically. If you expect your senator or representative to be looking after your interests as a citizen of your state, think again: Money talks, and if that money shouts from outside the state, who will your member of Congress attend to most? That’s a moral issue, and the folks on Capitol Hill have been failing that test for decades.

Their campaigns will offer promises and platitudes aimed at obtaining your vote. After that vote is cast, however … that sound you hear is members of Congress whispering fuck you en masse.

Only idiots and morons (but not the crooks) fail to win re-election

Re-election rates for both the House and Senate have hovered at 90 percent and higher over the years. Challengers face impossible odds. Much of that is due to gerrymandering. Congressional districts are so distorted that they fail the tests of “electoral apportionment — compactness and equality of size of constituencies.

A member of Congress may ignore the wishes of most of his or her constituents as long as he or she attends to the powerful and well-monied few who made election, and subsequent re-election, possible. Thus Congress is stacked with members who have little in common with most constituents and see no need to achieve that commonality.

How to get rich — be elected to Congress!

You know, of course, that anyone elected to Congress is rich (well, richer than you and I). They will get richer while in Congress. This year the median net worth of members of Congress exceeds one million dollars.

Members of Congress have long been far wealthier than the typical American, but the fact that now a majority of members — albeit just a hair over 50 percent — are millionaires represents a watershed moment at a time when lawmakers are debating issues like unemployment benefits, food stamps and the minimum wage, which affect people with far fewer resources, as well as considering an overhaul of the tax code. [emphasis added]

Members of Congress will get richer: Their collective net worth increased by $150 million this year.

So little incentive for morally strong choices

You cannot stride into your polling station next month hopeful that democracy will prevail and all will be right on Capitol Hill. That will not happen.

Once elected, the rhetoric of seeking office solely to “do the business of the American people” or “it’s time to clean up Congress” immediately succumbs as office holders become hostage to their parties and dark-money donors.

Consider: Candidates, either challengers or incumbents, accept up to tens of millions of dollars from financial and securities firms, real estate moguls, mega-rich billionaires, the insurance industry, the energy industries, and the health, medical, and pharmaceutical sectors. They also benefit from dark money — tens of millions of dollars donated to organizations that do not have to tell us who gave the money.

Consider: Your measly $200 campaign check might not even end up in your intended recipient’s pocket.

Incumbents in Congress will urge donations to their leadership PACs with patriotic-sounding names such as AmeriPAC: The Fund for a Greater America (Rep. Steny Hoyer); Freedom Project (House Speaker John Boehner); PAC to the Future (Rep. Nancy Pelosi); and Jobs, Opportunities & Education PAC (Rep. Joseph Crowley). Such titles are morally deceptive. (I know, I know: Shocking, isn’t it?)

But they do not tell you they will send big chunks of money from their leadership PACs to those of other incumbents facing a tight election tussle. That’s often done at the direction of their national party. If you thought donating to your incumbent’s leadership PAC would solely help him or her achieve or retain office, think again. Such PACs are slush funds incumbents use to barter for votes on their pet bills, boost another incumbent in hopes of favorable treatment in the future, or as a retirement fund. Yep, incumbents retain control of that money when retiring from Congress or losing an election. These are morally ambiguous choices.

Consider: Incumbents will spend up to half their time in office raising money. So “the business of the American people” gets only half their time, often less. Call time is heavily regimented by both parties.

Consider: As detailed by “Extortion” author Peter Schweizer, members of the House of Representatives are tasked with specific fundraising goals — not for the member, but for the party. Members also must pay assigned “dues” as well. The formula is simple: The more money you raise for the party, the more influential you become. That means those who raise the most earn top leadership posts and important committee chairs. (House Republican dues; House Democrat dues.)

What Congress will not do

In what universe is this a sane way to elect and operate a bicameral body that acts for the benefit of 315 million citizens? It isn’t, but it is the natural outcome of a system designed by those with the most who have little incentive to perform for the benefit of those with the least.

How would it be possible for such a Congress to improve the state of American education at every level?

How would it be possible for such a Congress to repair highways, bridges, airports, dams, underground water and sewer lines, and wastewater treatment plants that have aged to the point of failure?

How would it be possible for such a Congress to remove the staggering $1 trillion burden of debt shouldered by young people who just wanted to go to college and get an education that would allow them to thrive as individuals and members of American society? It is these young people, my students, for whom I have most concern. If they do not thrive socially, economically, morally, and intellectually, America is screwed.

The ascent of negative attack ads

At the heart of my disgust, however, is this: the immorality of negative attack ads. Surveys say they “work” (although I wonder what the definition of “work” is.)

A candidate first airs the clichéd biographical ad at the beginning of the campaign: Look how decent and upstanding I am. See my well-raised children. Meet my adoring spouse. Look at us. We’re your neighbors next door. We’re nice folk. Elect me; I’l take care of you.

Enter the moral ambiguity: He or she hires a pricey consultant to do “oppo research” — dig up dirt on his or her opponent. (There’s even a handbook that will teach you how to be such a slime sucker.) For the rest of the campaign, he or she, fueled by oppo research, runs ads denigrating his or her opponent.

Why the hell should we vote for someone who believes (or accepts orders from the national party to do so) in being fucking nasty to become a member of Congress? Yes, I know: Politicians do it because it gets them into office. So we put two-faced assholes in Congress, and they do crap for us. We reap what we sow.

You and I were spanked as children for the behaviors exhibited routinely by members of Congress and wannabes. We continue to elect or re-elect a disgustingly high number of dumb-ass, morally challenged politicians.

In war, truth is the first casualty. In politics, now practiced as warfare, the first casualty is moral clarity.

So I have little enthusiasm, and neither should you, for voting for a member of Congress who defines duty as service to the few rather than the many.

7 replies »

  1. An update from the Center for Responsive Politics today:

    “The 2014 midterms may well mark the election cycle in which the small donor got left behind. Revised projections by the Center for Responsive Politics for the total cost of these congressional races suggest they may be only slightly more expensive than those in 2010, but outside money will have played an outsized role. And the number of identified individual donors will shrink, meaning more money will have come from fewer people.”


  2. So. What do you propose, Denny? I’d love to see a follow up that posits changes we need to make to the system to get ourselves a decent government.

    • I think there’s a clear moral choices between politicians who want to protect the environment and those who want to protect the right to dump coal ash in the river, a clear moral choice between politicians who want to feed hungry children by asking corporations to pay taxes and those who want to dismantle the welfare state our elected representatives built in response to the great depression, and a very clear moral choices between those who want people to vote and those who discourage people from voting, because votes are real power wielded by real people, and saying otherwise is lying and trying to take that power away through deception. They wouldn’t have to spend all this money if they didn’t actually need your votes. You (collectively) are the decider. Vote.

      • Josh,

        Thanks for your comment. I agree with your sentiment. Or at least I remember 40 years ago agreeing with it. Back then I could vote for politicians who represented both a “clear moral choice” and who backed up those choices while in office.

        I no longer believe that Congress, as currently operated, permits the latter. If it did, then all the problems you outlined in your comment would be moving toward deliberated resolution in Congress. And they are not, and I do not expect them to be in my remaining years.

        Keep up the good fight, Josh, as best you can.

        • I don’t disagree that there’s a clear moral choice to be made. I just don’t see many pols representing the right one.

          The last thing I want to do, though, is undercut the convictions of people like Josh. We need more of that, not less. That said, if you put a gun to my head and told me to identify a source of hope that might take hold in my lifetime, I’d tell you to go ahead and pull the trigger.

          I’d love to be wrong, though.

  3. well said, sam. i agree with denny 135%. however, those of us who have lost the faith should keep our apostasy quiet. it’s not fair to the josh’s of the world, and as sam says, we could be wrong. some day. maybe.