Commentary Magazine


Faith in Congress Erodes

According to Gallup:

Americans’ assessment of Congress has hit a new low, with 13% saying they approve of the way Congress is handling its job. The 83% disapproval rating is also the worst Gallup has measured in more than 30 years of tracking congressional job performance. The prior low approval rating for Congress was 14% in July 2008 when the United States was dealing with record-high gas prices and the economy was in recession… Americans currently hold Congress in lower esteem for the job it is doing than at any point in the last 36 years. In the past month, many of the supporters it had, largely Democrats, appear to have become frustrated with its work.

I have mixed feelings about the results of this survey.

On the one hand, the 111th Congress has earned the enmity of the public. This was, in some important respects, among the worst Congresses in our lifetime. It took actions that made many of the problems we face worse rather than better — and I certainly count myself among the 83 percent who disapprove of the current Congress.

On the other hand, the Framers of the American Constitution regarded Congress “the mainspring of the constitutional system,” according to Georgetown University’s George Carey. For example, Article I of the Constitution, which deals with the powers and duties of Congress, consists of 10 sections and more than 2,200 words; Article II, which deals with the powers and duties of the presidency, consists of four sections and slightly more than 1,000 words. The Founders, then, believed in the separation of powers but also congressional supremacy.

Over the centuries, congressional power relative to the presidency has waxed and waned — but Congress as an institution is obviously indispensable to our republic. And to have it held in such bad repute by the public must, on some level, trouble us all.

It is hard for the citizenry to love its country if it holds a deep, persistent contempt for its governing institutions. Which is why the latest Gallup survey, while warranted, is also disquieting and discouraging.