Dan Balz reported in the Washington Post this week that a Gallup poll puts public approval of the Congress at 11%--an all-time low. Congress finishes last, he adds, in a list of public confidence in sixteen institutions--eight points lower than health maintenance organizations, 11 points lower than television news, 14 points lower than newspapers. By 2-1, Balz says, Americans say they'd like to vote for a Congressional candidate who's never been to Congress. Wow--that's a lot of negatives! The funny thing is, I'm not quite sure why. Sure, it's easy to make fun of Congress--always has been. I did it sometimes when I covered the place. And sure, if you remember some of the great people who served in Congress thirty or forty years ago--Barbara Jordan, Phil Hart, Everett Dirksen, John Sherman Cooper, Pat Moynihan--it's easy to argue that today's Congressmen look a bit smaller on their stage. Earlier Congresses coped with great issues--the Depression, war and peace. But these guys have had big issues today too--two wars and a major recession. We do seem to be leaving Iraq--all combat troops out this month, I read, and it's starting to look as if we might even leave Afghanistan sometime in the next few years. And the economy is getting better--slowly, but it is. This Congress managed to pass the stimulus package, the health care bill, financial reform - all big, cumbersome and important. So sure, we should keep making fun of them--I think it's good for them--but maybe, just every now and then, a tiny ripple of applause as well?
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