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Congress and Democracy

Is Congress an instrument of democracy?

The Congress of the United States is failing the people of this country. Under the Constitution of the United States, Congress is one of the three branches of government that the founders hoped would provide balance of our government and ensure that the will of the people was generally followed. Of late, it appears to us that all three branches, but especially Congress, have neither followed the will of the people nor provided the leadership required to maintain our democracy. While one can fault with both the court system and the presidency, congress, as the direct representative of the people, has shown the greatest failure.

Congress collectively is a failure; however, we do not assert that each individual member bears all the responsibility for that failure. Certainly, there are many members, representing all parties, who personally wish that he system worked with more integrity and in the best interests of their constituents. However, all members are a part of the system and each individual has the responsibility of either going along with the failing system or working to correct it.


Some Members of Congress are tyrants

Anyone who has watched the treatment of witnesses (victims, more likely) appearing before congressional committees has seen a reasonable approximation of what it must have been like to be questioned by the Spanish Inquisition. The inquisitions are not confined to one house of congress or to one political party; they are an example of what power can do for people who wish to dominate others. No one (much) watches the "debates" that go on in the House or Senate but when a important (in political terms) person is to "testify" before one of the congressional committees, the hearings are highly publicized. This provides senators/representatives the opportunity to be seen and heard by a large audience and often brings out the worst of their personalities and political prejudices. People testifying can be given soft glove treatment, abused by both political parties, or more usually, condemned by one party and defended by the other. Instead of enquiring, the questioners typically pontificate for extended period and then pose a "gotcha" question or one that is so unclear as to be unanswerable.

We don't wish to deny congress the power to question, investigate, or to determine the competence of prospective office holders, but the current practices are undignified for our country and abusive to those who appear before committees. This should be changed.


Many Members of Congress are self-serving

Again, recognizing that there are notable exceptions who really are public servants, the majority of congressional inmates are their for their own personal interests. Congress people receive a large amount of attention from the public and are provided with perks and benefits that most of them would never receive in other than political life. In congress, one is part of an exclusive club that provides prestige and gravitas that the person might not otherwise possess. Members of congress are popular people. constituents and others seek their time and approval; they are photographed, quoted, and fawned over. Their position suggests that they have a (supposed) wisdom that lesser beings (other than journalists) do not possess.

Of course, congressional office holders also have to reelected if they are to stay in office. Today, this often requires that members ingratiate themselves to groups and individuals who then expect the member to reciprocate by supporting laws or programs favored by their donors/supporters.


Too many members of Congress are dishonest

Too many members of Congress are dishonest

While there are notable exceptions, congress members are notoriously dishonest in one way or another. Being a cross section of America, some in congress are actual crooks. This has been amply demonstrated by recent disclosures of bribery, fraud and other common illegal activities. Also, more than a few members solicit money or favors that are clearly unethical. Some members have associates with reputations as organized crime bosses.

But the biggest complaint against many members is the common political dishonesty that pervades the congress. Many members are very reluctant to tell the truth about almost anything. They avoid meaningful discourse at all cost. They may use selective facts that bolster their viewpoint, but leave out those that are equally valid but not supportive of their cause. True, this is a common practice in everyday life, but our government (and congress is one of the three corner stones of our government) should concentrate on giving us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Congress persons will avoid answering questions the best of their ability. This is because they fear (correctly) that their words will anger a favored group or will be used against them by the opposition. Members, mostly being politicians, will knowingly use other's comments out of context and give them meanings that were not those of the speaker.

One of the most dishonest symptoms of members are "earmarks", projects personally selected by the member and which benefit a small number of people in his/her home state. We suppose that there is nothing inherently wrong with occasionally providing assistance where needed by the people who you represent, but these "projects" are hidden from all the public except the beneficiaries who are made fully aware of who has brought his present. Members hide these gifts in large bills that have already been approved by their houses. Whether or not these projects are warranted is never even discussed by either house and the name of the provider is not publicly linked to the gift. There have recently been some half-hearted efforts to correct this misconduct, but earmarks remain a fundamentally dishonest system and those who use it are also being secretive: something that should not be allowed in congress.


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