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Confessions of a Congressman (vox.com)
207 points by anigbrowl on Feb 7, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 157 comments

>We are still, despite our shortcomings, the most successful experiment in self-government in history.

I'd like to know what metric they are judging that by.

Agreed, the US doesn't rank first in virtually any metric that citizens would consider to be desirable (like healthcare, education, safety, freedom of the press etc). And it's no more democratic than say most European states.

Taking into context its size is a whole different matter, though. It's relatively easier to build an awesome small country (say the Netherlands where I'm writing from) than a massive union of states spanning multiple time zones and climates. Perhaps if the US is compared to the entirety of the EU, then Congress and the American system of governing can be said to be one of the most impressive, if not the most impressive, experiment in government in history at that scale (although I'd much prefer Europe to the US even on average). But that's more a function of it being the only 300m+ country in the world that is also rich than it being the best among many of them.

> no more democratic than say most European states

I may get flamed or burned for saying this, but I believe we (in Europe and US) are currently pretty close to the ancient form of Greek democracy.

In the ancient Greece, the vote was a privilege of the free men. The definition of "free man" on the other hand was not quite what we think of in a modern society. To start with, only a few percent of the population actually was eligible to participate. [0] To qualify as a free man, you needed to have position and/or wealth. Usually the two came together.

After all, what good would it do to allow plebs to vote? They could vote against your agenda! Better to control the access to the vote by simply ensuring that at least majority of the voting people already share a certain appreciation for the status quo.

"But, but but... We can vote however we want" you say. Sorry, no you can't. Thanks to the nature of the system, you get to vote between two or three nearly identical alternatives. Outliers will not be even put on the ballot. (I think California is an exception, which introduces its own downsides.)

The choices on the vote are in practice dictated by those with the most power or money. Lawrence Lessig outlined this situation with his only slightly satirical TED talk - a country of Lesters. [1, 2]

But back to terminology. If the power is held by those with wealth, and decisions are made purely among the people who have the most to financially gain from them, what do you call such a system? Is there even a descriptive term for a mix of oligarchy and plutocracy?

The True Greek Democracy?

0: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athenian_democracy#Participatio...

1: http://blog.ted.com/2013/04/03/how-we-can-make-elections-abo...

2: http://www.ted.com/talks/lawrence_lessig_we_the_people_and_t...

The Netherlands has actually way more choice in parties to vote for than just two or three. Smaller parties have pretty decent power to influence policy, as long as they get enough votes for a single seat. The difference between zero (no voice) and one seat is much more important than the difference between one, two or three seats.

And even the larger parties are not at all identical, especially when compared to the US' Democrats vs Republicans (although I am aware that this is in the US largely due to the "gridlock" mentioned in the article). Also, even the larger traditional right-wing party VVD is relatively left-wing when compared to US politics--they even consider themselves "liberals", to the point that the word itself is often associated with right-wing politics (the previous chairwoman Femke Halsema of our Green Party sometimes explicitly referred to herself as "liberal", to mess with this preconception, and try and reclaim the term).

Maybe for the US you have only 2 choices, but Europe actually has quite a few "new" parties recently. UKIP[0], Podemos[1], and SYRIZA[2] (and many others I'm not well acquainted with) have all cropped up in the past few years, and have had quite a lot of success.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_Independence_Party 2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podemos_%28Spanish_political_pa... 3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalition_of_the_Radical_Left

To start with - I happen to be European. (Finn, living in UK.) I would say that all three of your examples actually confirm what I sad above.

UKIP, Podemos and SYRIZA are all parties that rose to their position of power only after the status quo was already horribly disturbed.

UKIP - While UK feels a bit xenophobic at times, it was only when the financial stability was shattered that a more-extreme-than-current protest movement gained power

SYRIZA - rose to power after Greece economy was first demolished, and then further abused; again, the calm and nice status quo was disturbed

Podemos - I hear Spain has suffered similarly since the financial crisis and is still in the process of starting their recovery

UKIP, Podemos and SYRIZA are all parties that rose to their position of power only after the status quo was already horribly disturbed

In the U.S., after horrible disturbances, we watch the two parties blame each other on talk radio, Fox News, and MSNBC and then vote the same parties in.

The US hasn't had the "horrible disturbances" that Europe has had.

I guess if you omit the civil war, ww1, ww2, the great depression, the financial crisis of 2008, racial strife, 1970s stagflation, and any number of major disruptions from the historical record, youre right.

Well, neither ww1 nor ww2 was as damaging for the US as it was for Europe... but then again, we started them ;-)

I meant in recent years, but the 2008 financial crisis was nothing in the US compared to what it was in Europe. The US Dollar was never at major threat of collapse the way the Euro was.

Agrees, this is one area Europe clearly has us beat, viable n party candidates, where n is greater than 2. Im not quite sure why things evolved that way. Is it a side effect of capitalism?

Many EU nations use parliamentary democracy instead of the Duverger's-law-ridden First Past the Post elections to district seats used in America.

The UK uses FPTP, and has 4ish parties that are relevant in everyday politics.

That's an anomaly, the stable state for a FPTP system is a two-party system. Enjoy it while it lasts.

We've had a significant 3rd party (Lib dems) since the 90s. Sure, FPTP sucks, but British politics has had more than 2 parties (that actually win seats) for quite a while

Here is latest talk from Lawrence Lessig -- Lawrence Lessig's Plan to take our democracy back live at the JCCSF: http://youtu.be/Lypn5aoJI6U

Size is important. I think everything gets harder with increased size. The more I look at the US, the more I like the EU being more of a confederation than a union, even though all the horse trading makes Brussels a mess. Countries with homogeneous culture and a population less than 10 million just seems optimal. There are positive scaling effects to be had, and I don't think the EU is quite strong enough to capture them all yet, but I think a vision of a USE is misguided.

We have those in the US. They are called good school districts.

I wouldn't say the US being rich is a question of government organization, rather of not having been a colony whose sole purpose was to export raw materials.

Higher dimensions also means more tax collection, which could be perfectly invested into making the standard of living of Americans better (it seems absurd to me that you don't have any public universal healthcare). The government prefers to invest 50% of it in Defense though. Consequence (also) of arms industry lobbyists and geopolitical strategy etc. but certainly not of size.

Holding defense spending against the U.S. while comparing it to Europe doesn't make much sense. The U.S. subsidizes defense for Europe. Look, Europe spent the last several hundred years warring with each other, then stopped suddenly with U.S. ascendency. They didn't evolve beyond war. It just became unimaginable when the U.S. has all the guns and will enforce the status quo.

The European Union is widely regarded to be the main reason driving a peaceful Europe. I've not really heard of the argument at all, ever, that the US is what keeps Europe from engaging in war.

It's true that the US-led United Nations and principles of the right of self-determination led to massive post-war decolonization, leading to Europe being much less imperialistic (which accelerated the inevitable independence movements which were already in full force in most countries) but even here the US subsidizing defense doesn't apply, the amount of military power that was used for the colonies was quite slim, almost everywhere they became police-heavy, and the US wouldn't have subsidized colonial powers, on the contrary.

As for Europe warring until US ascendancy... while it's certainly true that the US was never more powerful relatively to everyone else than after the second world war, but they've been the largest economy in the world since the 19th century. They were the superpower before the first world war even started, let alone the second. Hell if anything, since then the US only lost power as Russia became a superpower, Western Europe became united and China rose, none of which were true at the end of the 19th century, and the per-capita wealth gap between the US and everyone else only slimmed since then.

But I'll agree with you on the fact that the US subsidizes defense spending through the NATO in the tug of war for eastern Europe, sure. It's unlikely that the EU could have grown eastward so much, without NATO we would've seen today's Ukraine happen much sooner with say Estonia, Latvia, Romania or Poland 10 years ago.

It's less a question of American economic power and more a question of the tens of thousands of American troops stationed throughout Europe. The U.S. military presence already in Europe is larger than the militaries of many European countries, and there's almost a million more American troops who can be deployed there if need be. If the U.S. was willing to do that in 1918, instead of turning isolationist again, World War II could have been prevented, just as the Pax Americana after World War II successfully prevented World War III.

The US has extensive public healthcare. Medicare and Medicaid are huge programs. I realize there is a fair chance that you mean some baseline universal care, but imprecise terms make the conversation more difficult.

Large corporations are also hilariously micro-socialist in the way health care is provided to workers (partly by government rule, partly because they hire productive workers and can afford to compete with benefits).

Edit: The ACA (Obamacare) was also a big step towards universal care. The funding/payment model is messy, but all someone needs to do in the US to get health coverage now is apply for it and make payments, they don't have to hope they get accepted by the insurance company (and I guess it is also much harder to drop coverage).

My notion of "public healthcare" is being able to walk into a government clinic or hospital and get free treatment or appointments as long as you show you're a citizen -- sorry for not having cleared that up.

I personally do like the single-payer approach, where you get coverage on a no-fee basis purely by showing you're a citizen/resident; and that's how it's done here in Denmark. But it's not the only way of providing universal care, even in Europe. Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands are typically considered to also have universal healthcare, but it's administered via health insurance, not as a single-payer model with direct state provision of services. There are various options for coverage, but having some baseline coverage is mandatory and intended to be universal (with subsidies for people who can't afford it), somewhat closer to the ACA model than to the Scandinavian or Canadian model.

Except you said the U.S. doesn't have any public healthcare.

I changed my original comment to "public universal healthcare". I once again apologize for the lack of clarity of the original comment, and I hope you understand what my point was.

Europeans visiting the states are genuinely worried that they will be carjacked, which I always find hilarious. Life is not like the movies or the news.

It is unsettling the number of Americans I meet that seem to have the same worries in their own country. The level of fear and paranoia is great.

Americans don't worry about car jackings because they don't have a cartoon view of the US.

The USA has the strongest military in the world. Unlike the Netherlands, we can actually defend ourselves against an aggressor. I would rather come from a strong country than one that needs to rely on others when it comes to defense.

Your social programs aren't worth a damn if you don't have the ability to defend yourself.

Don't be so quick to downvote ladytron, there's a core of truth in it. As long as our surrounding countries allow us to be, The Netherlands is the greatest country in the world (to live in), obviously WW2 has shown us that can be taken away from us in an instant.

Arguing that the US wouldn't let it happen is stupid. Last time the US saved us it took 5 years for it to make that decision (for which we are eternally grateful) and in those 5 years the agressor had killed almost an entire subculture of our society in gas chambers and put us through one of the worst food shortages in our history.

I'm not saying we should make an effort to go all Israel and build an army worthy of Mordor, but there's no shame in simply admitting we are weak and depend on our diplomacy to survive.

The social programs really are worth a damn though. From my perspective (easy as a Dutch person) countries like The Netherlands is what we're fighting for. It's simply civilization, a world where we don't have to behave like animals to get what we need. Take away your social structure, and you take away civilization from the less wealthy. And the result is obvious, only the hyenas and vultures make it out, and they'll be the ones perfect for a job as Congress man/woman.

The biggest difference between now and 1940 is that in 1940, the US didn't have more troops already in Germany than the Netherlands had in total. Nor was the US bound by treaty to defend virtually every country in Europe from aggression.

It's funny talking to Europeans about this though, because when we rush to the rescue of other countries, like South Vietnam, you call us warmongers.

>I'm not saying we should make an effort to go all Israel and build an army worthy of Mordor

Take back your insult to Israelis! Mordor lost.

>there's no shame in simply admitting we are weak and depend on our diplomacy to survive.

Not true. You're an American protectorate.

> Take back your insult to Israelis! Mordor lost.

It's not an insult. Mordor only lost because they depended on the power of the ring to unite their armies. Only when it was destroyed their armies fell into chaos. If it were up to the military power of Mordor Middle-Earth would surely have fallen.

> Not true. You're an American protectorate.

The whole idea of being a protectorate is that you're weak and are depending on your allies to survive, which is exactly what I'm saying.

>The whole idea of being a protectorate is that you're weak and are depending on your allies to survive, which is exactly what I'm saying.

Fair enough.

>It's not an insult. Mordor only lost because they depended on the power of the ring to unite their armies. Only when it was destroyed their armies fell into chaos. If it were up to the military power of Mordor Middle-Earth would surely have fallen.

There's also the fact that Mordor was evil.

> There's also the fact that Mordor was evil.

You're saying Israel's military is not good enough for an evil power? I didn't know alignments had strength requirements.

I'm saying Israel is Chaotic Good.

Given geography and its current land neighbors, the US military is 5 to 10 times oversized for a defensive role.

But that's of course not what it's for. It's for bullying the entire world and to provide massive opportunities for lobbying and pork barrel politics.

Not something to be proud of, really.

The US military has the following missions, by law and treaty:

1. Protect the United States

2. Provide mutual defense to Canada, the entire continent of Europe, and South Korea.

3. Defend counties like Japan and Iceland, which are treaty-bound not to have militaries of their own.

By tradition and policy, but not necessarily binding treaty or law, the US military also has the following missions:

4. Protect the entire Western Hemisphere from foreign aggression (the Monroe Doctrine).

5. Protect the economic supply chain of the developed world, particularly the oil supply.

6. Occasionally intervene, militarily, in humanitarian crises (this goes back and forth; yes in Somalia, no in Rwanda, yes in Yugoslavia).

7. Provide purely humanitarian assistance in case of natural disasters (the military has tons of logistical ability that's occasionally repurposed to provide food and water to e.g. Haiti whenever it gets hit by a hurricane).

8. Keep the world's sea lanes open for shipping (this is kind of a shared responsibility with every major naval power, but we're practically the only one left).

Also, there are non-functional requirements to the US military, driven by purely political forces that almost no potential US enemy has:

9. Minimize friendly casualties. Spare no expense to accomplish this.

10. Minimize civilian casualties.

11. Maintain good PR so they don't look like bullies.

In other words, the US has to bear the bulk of the entire world's military requirements, and not just be able to win wars, but win them in absolute routs that are nearly unprecedented in world history. If anything, the US military is undersized for its current requirements. It's oversized if you're looking at requirement #1, but that's a ridiculous understatement of the actual requirements, or any realistic set of requirements, for the US military.

That's mostly a function of size. Several countries have stronger military's per person. Worse we gain little from a strong military. Sure, there are a few economic benefits but suspending 1/3 as much would be a huge net gain.

Picture zero national debt.

Don't know what you mean by "strong", but the US has the highest per-capita military spending: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_e...

Spending money and getting value for that money are vary different things.

And yet in the lead-up to WWII, the US had a very small army. Any aggressor other than Canada or Mexico would have to first cross the twin giant moats of the US. Canada has nowhere near the size to take on the US, and a sufficient military build-up in Mexico would be seen coming a long way away.

If the goal is simply "defend ourselves", a strong navy is all the US needs, plus a few nukes to stay in the nuke club. Any aggressor with a large enough army and navy to take on the US would, again, be seen coming a mile away.

That may have been true 50 years ago, but not now. The future of military defense is the future of technology: genomics, information systems, robotics, self driving and flying vehicles, nanotechnology.

A constant investment in technical capabilities and human capabilities is needed to defend against future threats from aggressive actors.

Those investments require money from tax payers.

> Those investments require money from tax payers.

Congress is more interested in "investing" in tanks the Army doesn't want[1] than flying vehicles and nanotechnology.

[1] http://www.military.com/daily-news/2014/12/18/congress-again...

Yes, one challenge for the military is educating congress and the American people on new emerging threats so new defense products can be researched, developed, and funded.

The global military environment is dynamic and evolving and our defense plans need to reflect that reality.

Europe is too important to US power to leave to chance so those forces would be redundant.

If Europe comes out ahead partly by defecting in a farmer's dilemma[1], it hardly seems fair to hold it up as an example of what the US should aspire to.

(You might argue that the US doesn't need to spend that much on military. But you didn't argue that. You argued that Europe doesn't need to spend as much on military as the US, because the US does.)

[1] I could have sworn the farmer's dilemma was a standard term, but I can't find it on google. If two farmers have fields next to each other, and one of them irrigates, then both of them benefit. They can split the work, or one can say "I'm not going to bother. What are you going to do, let your crops die, just to spite me?" So the second one irrigates.

Then people look at the first farmer and see that he runs a successful farm without working as hard as the second, and they assume that she must be doing something wrong.

Prisoner's dilemma is more widely known. In any case it's known as game theory.

It's not the prisoner's dilemma. In PD, both players are better off defecting, regardless of their opponent's move. In FD, if one defects, then the other gets a better result by cooperating.

So you are content to allow the USA to defend Europe while you spend your money on domestic services? Personally I find it hard to respect those decisions.

We end having to protect Europe because we are the only ones who understand defense of one's liberty should be the first priority.

Who did the US protect Europe against? Last I checked the US came to Europe last 70 years ago, and not to defend Europe but to aid one part of Europe against another part of Europe, years after the war started, in an effort that was puny compared to the sacrifice of say the Russians to whom we're much more indebted, and in doing so the US was heavily involved in every end-of-war and post-war treaty in which the US were rewarded more than anyone else. And hey you nicely rounded off the war with dropping atomic bombs on civilians, the act of killing civilians and terrorizing them for political ends, something we happen to call terrorism these days, LIBERTY!

And since then the US has mostly abused that position of powers with silly wars in Vietnam, or in Iraq fighting the guy twice that they funded and armed, as well as all the support for dictators like Pinochet or the overthrow of democratic secular governments in say Iran, anyway the list goes on and on I'm sure you're familiar.

I'm certainly glad the US came and helped 70 years ago, but this notion that the US is the world's moral police force and we all live in safety because of it good will is bit myopic. It's a much more contextualized story than that.

It's partially true, absolutely, no denying that US hegemony keeps others from employing military opportunism. But that has more to do with US interests in keeping geopolitical control for its own benefit than US sacrifice out of benevolence.

And so the notion then, that the US commands global power and Europe doesn't try to fight it or compete with it by investing in a military that wouldn't make us any safer, but SPENDS MONEY ON THE QUALIFY OF PEOPLES LIVES is hard to respect, while cooperating with the US in NATO and supporting the US in legitimate wars (say when Iraq invaded Kuwait, or say fighting the Taliban (that the US funded and armed in the first place, by the way) in Afghanistan), is ridiculous. Yeah I put that in caps because you didn't seen to grasp how this is basically the best thing you can do, spending money on your own people.

I mean, what do you want, for the EU to pay some kind of tithe to the US for protection? The US military isn't that big because it's so kind, it's big because being the world superpower is extremely beneficial. There's no country that large that's anywhere close as rich. It has little to do with liberty.

And yeah I'm content with the US having that power and wealth, and to spend my tax euros on improving the lives of me and my peers.

> We end having to protect Europe because we are the only ones who understand defense of one's liberty should be the first priority.

That's why Snowden is such a hero in the US right? Especially with the military who just want to bring liberty to all, those guys must love the way he showed of this massive three letter organisation that makes constant attacks on all our liberties. Give me a break with the 'liberty' rhetoric already.

In short, yes we Europeans value liberty, no we're not the world superpower we were in the colonial era and spend more on our citizens than on being a superpower, and yes that has put western europe at the top when it comes to rankings and metrics for standard of life (including metrics of liberty, say freedom of the press? My country ranks 2nd, the US? 46. Have fun with your liberty. Similar story for say civil liberties or corruption, you don't score anywhere near the top 10 on liberty metrics) And we're generally quite content about that.

> It's partially true, absolutely, no denying that US hegemony keeps others from employing military opportunism. But that has more to do with US interests in keeping geopolitical control for its own benefit than US sacrifice out of benevolence.

In the language of my previous post, you largely seem to be saying, "yes Europe gets some benefit by defecting against the US in a farmer's dilemma, but it's not like the US is cooperating out of benevolence!" Of course it isn't. The one farmer doesn't irrigate to help the other, she does so because she wants her crops not to die.

"And the US is doing such a bad job of irrigation! Sometimes it digs ditches that make no sense, and one time it flooded our fields and we had to step in and help fix it!" Sure, that's a valid criticism of the US, but it's hardly a defense of defection.

I sincerely hope you never need us to defend you. But we would, because Americans roll like that.

I wonder. Are there metrics by which the US is on top?

By world standards, the US is a very nice place. It makes the top 10 or top 20 by typical metrics. But it usually doesn't take the top spot.



http://www.ffp.statesindex.org/rankings-2013-sortable (reversed)

well in your list of countries by GDP (PPP) the US is and has long been the top large-population country.

The fact that that doesn't translate to actual benefits in metrics such as happiness or healthcare or income equality just goes to show how little raw money actually means.

A larger and more heterogeneous country is going to have less equality almost by definition. However, 150 years ago we decided that it was crucially important to keep states like Mississippi[1] in the union; if that went the other way, the metrics would look a lot better.

[1] There's a saying among states that rank 49th out of 50 in these kinds of metrics: "Thank God for Mississippi".

On the contrary, the 1% that has the bulk of the raw money are extremely happy and healthy.

Do you have any evidence for this claim?

Because the first thing I think of when I see your claim is this 2011 (i.e., pre-Occupy) article: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/04/secret-f...

GDP per capita isn't the best measure for citizen's wealth when you don't take equality into account.

It's much better to look at median wages, I think.

As for the HDI, I have my reservations about it. It feels like one giant expression of wealth. That's bad because wealth isn't a direct measure of quality of life, it's indirect. One can be rich in a country where you have no freedom of the press or horrible gender relations or restrictions on sexual or ideological preference, for example.

Of course every metric is a function of wealth in some way, but the HDI more than others. For example, it measures education by years of education, not quality of education. The US does fine on years of education, but it hides the fact that test scores compared to the rest of the world are poor, or that the higher educational system leaves students with mountains of debt that have financial and non-financial consequences.

The second metric is income. Again, income an expression of wealth that's not a direct measure of quality of life, and again one that doesn't take into account wage-equality (and thus skews equal or even better towards countries with a very rich minority and a poor majority versus countries with a middle-class majority, while the latter is generally preferred.

And lastly Life expectancy at birth is a pretty decent metric. But even here there are plenty of more granular metrics. For example, a 22nd century medical system can keep alive much more obese and sick people. This showcases the notion that a sophisticated healthcare system can attain high life expectancy yet hide the fact that general health is in poor condition. While in countries where people die of lack of vaccinations reducing the life expectancy by a few years on average, people are otherwise much healthier.

On all these metrics the US skews more positively, I think. Income for one - the US is richer than most, but its middle class isn't. US kids get plenty of years in school, but test worse on virtually all subjects compared to their peers in other developed economies. And the US has good life expectancy, yet its healthcare system doesn't rank in the top 10, is more expensive by a wide margin and less accessible, and insane statistics like 2 out of every 3 people being overweight or obese are well known.

Actually reading further, my suspicion seems valid as they did an inequality-adjusted ranking too, one that looks at the average (median) level of development (i.e. loosely what you'd call middle class standard of living). US is at Nr 28.

But again the HDI is extremely thin in its metrics, it's only used well because it's a global UN effort and it's so easy to get metrics from every country as opposed to comparing more granular metrics for which data may not exist in tens of countries around the world. But if you compare OECD countries on granular metrics (e.g. something specific like a math test score, or teenage pregnancies), you'll find the US also ranks quite poorly.

Your last link ranks the US around nr. 20. That was kind of my point, US not on top, top 5 or even top 10, usually in the 20-30 range, but does very well given its size.

Compare Denmark to the U.S. Now compare the EU to Massachusetts. See the problem?

It is hard to act smug if you compare the US to the EU.

..metric that citizens would consider to be desirable..

And your problem is that you can only know what you and maybe a few other people consider desirable.

Europeans commenting on HN seem to be continually confused on why Americans don't think like them.

If you really believe Americans don't desire proper healthcare, education, safety, domestic violence, low teenage pregnancy, freedom of the press etc then you're beyond ignorant. That's just silly.

And guess what, the US generally doesn't rank anywhere near the top on any of these, except teenage pregnancies, you're number 1 by a very wide margin. But take Freedom of the Press for example, Freedom House puts the US at place 30, and Reporters without Borders at place 46 for 2014. For healthcare you pay a multiple of everyone else, yet don't rank in the top 10.

I'm not saying this is an exclusive list by the way. There'll surely be a whole bunch of things Americans prefer more than the rest of the world, it's completely besides the point and I'm not arguing against that at all. You may disagree with the rest of the world on how things like healthcare or domestic violence should be handled in terms of policy, but you can't argue that people don't care about having good healthcare or having little domestic violence. Any poll would show this.

If you really believe Americans don't desire proper healthcare, education, safety, domestic violence, low teenage pregnancy, freedom of the press etc then you're beyond ignorant. That's just silly.

Except you don't define proper and the means to achieve better.

And guess what, the US generally doesn't rank anywhere near the top on any of these, except teenage pregnancies, you're number 1 by a very wide margin. But take Freedom of the Press for example, Freedom House puts the US at place 30, and Reporters without Borders at place 46 for 2014. For healthcare you pay a multiple of everyone else, yet don't rank in the top 10

Again, those rankings don't really mean anything because they're completely subjective.

I'm not saying this is an exclusive list by the way. There'll surely be a whole bunch of things Americans prefer more than the rest of the world, it's completely besides the point and I'm not arguing against that at all. You may disagree with the rest of the world on how things like healthcare or domestic violence should be handled in terms of policy

"The rest of the world"? Really? You have no clue what "rest of the world" is thinking.

but you can't argue that people don't care about having good healthcare or having little domestic violence. Any poll would show this.

Yes, everybody wants that utopia...duhhhh. The means to getting there is the problem.

I'm not from Switzerland, but over here most people consider them to be the best example of government there is, so this statement seems a little weird.

Revealed Preferences. The US is still one of the prime targets for people to go to. This magnetism might be in decline but it's still there.

Absolutely, but I think it has a lot to do with culture. My girlfriend is American and I've considered moving, but purely on the basis of cultural interest, much like say my position towards living in Japan or France, it'd be an awesome experience from a cultural point of view. But I've got absolutely no interest in moving to the US because the middle-class standard of living is so much better than the Netherlands, in fact it's the prime reason that's holding me back.

When people say that, they are usually referring to the age of the government. There has been one constitution since the 1780s.

If that's the metric, then I would say that we are the most tragically squandered successful experiment in history.

I don't think this line was important to the central points of the article, so it's kind of sad that this reddit-style "zinger" is the top comment in this discussion. I expect better here.

Or where they get their definition of "self-government". I take issue with that, and I'd submit that it's pretty much an oxymoron.

Then again, I don't think any of us should be surprised at the use of such double-speek from a government official (if confirmed).

It's a synonym to democracy, and yes, I agree to some extent. Still, self-control with regards to any system is a widely accepted term, and a comparable metaphor.

You also have the phenomenon of Congress doing politically divisive things just to score points. For instance, the House just voted to repeal Obamacare for the 56th time. Why do it a 56th time? Even John Boehner says that it's so that freshman Republicans can go back to their districts and tell voters that they voted to appeal Obamacare.[1]

Similarly, there's now a special House committee to investigate Benghazi, even though there have already been investigations by four other House committees (Oversight and Government Reform, Intelligence, Armed Services, and Foreign Affairs).

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/02/why-repu...

> 9) Congress is still necessary to save America, and cynics aren't helping

> Discouragement is for wimps. We aren't going to change the Constitution, so we need to make the system we have work. ... Our greatest strength is our ability to bounce back from mistakes like we are making today. ... The point here isn't to make us something we're not. The point is to get us to make sausage again. But for that to happen, the people have to rise up and demand better.

How exactly are we supposed to get them to "make sausage again" when #2-8 pretty much list out why they aren't going to make sausage?

Have we not been demanding better? Any laws we might want of them to limit 2-8 is going to require the people who benefit the most from 2-8 to vote against themselves.

Articles like this is exactly why I'm discouraged and each voting cycle I get less and less inclined to go out and vote and just stay home and code.

> Articles like this is exactly why I'm discouraged and each voting cycle I get less and less inclined to go out and vote and just stay home and code.

I still vote, because while a single vote by itself doesn't make much of a difference, and even which flavor of shill who wins doesn't make much of a difference, the fact that a population votes does (I think) make a difference, regardless of the outcome.

If we collectively don't bother to vote, then we the people become all but irrelevant.

If you're too disgusted to vote, it's probably because the votes for people are between two equally repugnant choices. So go out and vote "anyone but those two." Vote third party. It doesn't matter what third party you vote for, because what you're really doing is showing up. It's a holding action, to preserve the vote, until we've figured out how to make it work again.

Think hard about holding on to your right to vote. Right now, in Congress, they still hold "voice votes," where individual votes are not counted, and instead the person running the vote decides based on the volume of "yeas" or "neighs" which side of the vote won. Before modern technology there were practical reasons/excuses for this practice, but now it's just a way to a) allow voting members to be anonymous, and b) the leadership to have undue tie-breaking influence. And it's lazy.

Who's to say that Congress won't eventually grow the balls (or have paid balls attached) to declare that they know how a district would vote anyway, based on blah blah blah, and just declare winners, because people aren't voting anyway.

At least force them to continue to lie. Don't just give it to them.

Any percentage of the electorate abstaining their vote through apathy reduces the legitimacy of the congress / system

If a significant portion of the population refuses to vote, it only reduces the legitimacy of the democracy.

But the system is still perfectly robust. How can you expect the government to improve if you refuse to utilize the only mechanism you have for imparting change?

Comments like yours seem to imply that there needs to be some sort of radical revolution in order to see any improvement in our system. What kind of revolution do you imagine?

There is no mechanism for measuring voting percentage and triggering a legitimacy action in the US.

Yeah, this is a pet peeve of mine. As far as I know, right now it's structurally impossible to have Congress make real reform, or even legislate effectively. There have been a string of these "inside" articles from staffers and congressmen themselves. They all have the same tone: money ruins politics, partisan politics ruins legislation, lobbyists steer the wheel more than the people, congressmen don't spend enough time with each other so they see each other as enemies, and so on.

This article in particular is funny. The writer suggests that we won't change the constitution. If the problem is that deeply rooted, what else could work but an amendment? Why not just change the rules of the game? I don't think there's a person I know who's happy with Congress, regardless of political party. I think it could work. All you need is enough people who agree, right?

See, I think we can change the Constitution. I've been thinking about this for a couple years. I think we need to start with a couple common-sense amendments for which broad-based, non-partisan support could be garnered. I have 2 ideas:

1. Fractional electoral college voting for president. This would instantly bring all 50 states back into play for presidential campaigns and enfranchise millions of people into the process whose vote for president is hardly relevant currently.

2. Instant-runoff (ranked) voting. This would allow people to vote more closely with their preferences and eliminate costly runoff elections. As a bonus, it might break the Ducorcet Law [1] tendency of "first past the post" to create two-party duopoly.

These are far from end-all, be-all solutions, but I believe them to be steps in the right direction. I truly believe we could get much of the intellectual energy of the country behind these two ideas. I think we're in dire need of something to shake up the status quo. And then maybe we can have some more substantitve debates.

You left out a link for your [1], and I think you misspelled "Condorcet" [2], unless you're thinking of something I'm not familiar with.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condorcet_criterion

It's Duverger's Law, actually.

Can't edit, but yes, you're right.

> Have we not been demanding better?

We haven't. Instead, we've been saying things like: How exactly are we supposed to get them to "make sausage again" when #2-8 pretty much list out why they aren't going to make sausage?

I, too, primarily get discouraged each voting cycle and feel progressively less inclined to take any sort of political action. I'm right there with you. It's actually very heartening to me that whoever wrote this article is optimistic that, if we really demanded it, change might come.

I'm interested in reactions to this idea: a virtual "shadow Congress."

The plan would be to get broad participation in an unofficial election process which would elect representatives to "shadow Congress." They'd at least start out by addressing the same agenda as real Congress, and be forbidden from introducing new agenda. The idea would be to generate a template of what a broad-participation representative group of citizens would like to see happen from Congress.

The theory is that if this shadow Congress is representative enough, it becomes hard for real Congress to ignore. The compromises it comes up with are a template for real compromises. When the national media starts writing stories like "Why can't real Congress do what shadow Congress can?" or "Here is the Senator unilaterally blocking the rest of Congress from following the shadow Congress' lead on this issue." the idea will have worked.

The powers that be have zero interest in the legalization of marijuana and yet it continues despite directly contravening federal law.

"The powers that be have zero interest in the legalization of marijuana and yet it continues despite directly contravening federal law."

The steady march towards legalization of marijuana is, quite frankly, a model for how people can work outside of D.C. to make things happen. This really began at the state level, then picked up momentum among voters by word of mouth, spreading from state to state.

I remember many years ago, when some political activists thought that medical marijuana was a strategically poor route to legalization. That has turned out to be completely wrong. Acceptance of the medical benefits of marijuana did a lot to change general public perception of cannabis. It completely reframed the issue, from one of moral panic, to one of compassion and economics. Over time, marijuana became so normalized as to stop outraging the kinds of voters it used to outrage. These days, even if many people still don't accept the medical benefits, they're not up in arms about the subject. They've accepted that people are going to smoke weed, and that the world doesn't fall off of its axis when people do. Haters have stopped hating.

Now that cannabis has been destigmatized, and all but normalized--in pop culture, in common experience, and at the polls--its former controversy has been short circuited. It's no longer a hot-button "social values" issue with any significant blocks of voters. Hence, no congressperson's job depends on coming out for or against it every election cycle. So congresspeople are apathetic about it. They're not going to try to help the issue, but they're not going to try to stop it, either.

Marijuana beat Congress because marijuana went around Congress. That seems to be the secret to making things happen in this country: make something a grassroots issue, generate "demand" (so to speak), and build a groundswell of inevitability before dealing with D.C.

I agree. If you want something done, don't bother with Congress. State or local is the only way to make a direct and timely difference in our lives.

Yet, state and local politics is also where some of the most regressive changes are happening. It's a real double-edge sword.

Then if you're a small-p progressive, and you want to keep regressives in check, that's the place to be. :)

Agreed about the credibility of an anonymous article. Vox would do well to explicitly vouch for it.

But this throw-away line struck me as valuable:

>Why try to get on a good committee if you have already ceded authority to your unelected, unaccountable party leaders?

This, it would seem to me, is the most troubling aspect of all of this (to put it mildly). If the tacit assumption is true (that congresspeople cede their authority to unelected party leaders) then we do not live in a democracy, we live in something like a kleptocracy.

The congresspeople are still technically free to vote apart from the party, so it's still technically a democracy. But that and other factors (incl. the gerrymandering, money in politics, etc mentioned in this article) certainly lower the "level of democraticness".

That's a great point. I would love to see a modern lay persons guide to "How Congress Really Works", taking that dynamic fully into account.

For something almost up to date, though closer to a set of high quality essays, I recommend "Congress Reconsidered" http://www.cqpress.com/product/Congress10e.html

Among other gems, it traces a "bill" through all the of the real process of Congress, as it has existed in the 21st century (IIRC that piece was written by a congressman; the language eventually gets stuffed into a much larger bill after party negotiations).

The sample chapter available for free from the linked site is also very good for understanding the evolution of the Senate.

I'm instinctually skeptical of anonymous articles. I always worry the publications are just making it up. It just seems unverifiable. I wonder if my conspiracy voice talking.

Regardless of verifiability of the author, this seems like an excellent list of problems with congress. I've seen ~ all of these elsewhere from more clearly authoritative sources.

It seems much interesting and useful to focus on the message over the messenger. Unfortunately, many of these problems seem relatively intractable given the incentive structure.

This was basically why I posted it. I too worried about the lack of verifiability, or whether it might be someone writing 'poetic truth' or somesuch. On the other hand, the issues described are all real and all chronic problems in US democracy. As someone said, our polity is 'less of a democracy than an auction', and I feel that this is partly responsible for the high incidence of gestural politics and legislative corruption that have displaced a good deal of pragmatic lawmaking.

If it seems like an excellent list of problems to people, doesn't that mean that it is just appealing to the thoughts that we already have? After all, if the problems seem obvious to us then how can it contain anything new? In other words, anyone could have written it. We have learnt nothing.

I was thinking the same thing. Besides, I imagine the actual inner workings of politics are far more disgusting than the descriptions we see here.

I do politics in the UK (and I'm deep enough in to know what's going on). I don't know if it's quite the same in the US, but as a broad description of how things work, this article rings true to me. There's no great corruption, but there's widespread apathy, getting things done is unreasonably difficult, and decisions tend to be made by whoever could be bothered to show up and sit through hours of tedious nonsense. The personal costs of getting things done are grossly disproportionate in comparison to the things you can get done, the pay is awful, and after you struggle for years to make things a bit better all you will get is bitching about how you didn't achieve more. That's why I won't take a job in politics, I just help/work with/fund people that do.

It's not a battle against people who are trying to abuse the system, it's a battle against people who don't care and don't see why they should bother, but whose assistance is needed for you to achieve your goals. The most common form of this is two groups of people who don't agree with each other, don't see why they should bother to reach an agreement, and don't care that the things you want can't happen until they do agree on what should be done.

Well he spared the details, but he makes some sweeping statements (nothing new). When he says that congressmen and women pander to large corporations rather than voters and that it's a stepping stone to more lucrative lobbying, you don't have to describe any disgusting details. You can already assume what kind of corrupt consequences that has in and of itself.

Yeah. Good point. As a high level description, it's probably accurate.

5) We don't have a Congress but a parliament

This is the true problem of Congress. It no longer is a separate part of government but merely and extension of the political parties. The ACA is the best example of this effect.

2) Congress listens best to money

The only way to fix this is to government fund all elections with a set amount of money and do not permit direct donations to political parties. However we must not ban paid political speech, only speech that targets a specific person pro or con; excepting someone already in office, negative ads should be always permitted against them

Where I live (Brazil) there has been widespread debate about state funding of political parties. It happens at the moment (I think something like 400mi USD is invested in it), but the issue with it is that it has prompted a load of small, socially inexpressive political parties to be founded to get money from that fund.

Debate also spins around prohibition of donations from companies or from donations over 2000 reais or something by a person (around 950 USD). Some would argue that company interests are valid and that prohibiting that would just generate that sort of funding illegally; others would say this sort of company funding is the root of a very corrupt system. This should be one of the main points of a try at political reform in the next four years.

Not necessarily is "being a parliament" a problem -- after all, parties are together for a reason. Except they are usually ideological in most countries (liberals, social-democrats, socialists), and not a group of people that got into parties to get, as noted by the article, in the party most convenient for the district where you come from.

"The only way to fix this is to government fund all elections with a set amount of money"

The elected officials who will make the rules here will do it for their own benefit.

I would prefer that campaign contributions only come from registered voters and a candidate can only accept contributions from those registered voters that can vote for that candidate.

Can someone do a stylometry analysis on this? There should be a large enough corpus of writing from every congressperson to identify the author.

While this is an interesting idea, if this becomes common practice, the only possible result is a chilling effect on the willingness of informers to inform or whistleblowers to blow said whistles. It's another needle in the coffin of anonymity.

Plus, if this was written by a journalist (or someone else) based on a good-faith account from a legislator, the result will be either that person giving up his source (see paragraph 1, above) or being ethical and refusing to, potentially casting a bad light on the article whether it's appropriate or not.

One might expect that scary agencies already have machine-learning-based approaches as common practice...

Could one defeat it by writing something, then having someone else "translate" it into their own vocabulary sentence-by-sentence, or even paragraph-by-paragraph, and having the original author approve the "translation"?

on the defensive side there is research into tools to conceal style, e.g. anonymouth https://psal.cs.drexel.edu/index.php/JStylo-Anonymouth

Should there? There's definitely a lot of writing, but the difficulty of separating all the ghostwritten stuff from the politician's own words might muddy the statistics.

I actually doubt that you can find a large body of writing from enough Congress members to succeed. I don't think members write a word of anything that comes from them, in office or in campaigns. They're written by ad/consulting companies in campaigns, and by staffers in office.

Everything I've received in response to a message to a member in the last two decades sounds like it was written by a corporate spokesman. Which they probably were, since I'm sure these canned responses are reviewed for compatibility with a member's donors.

It doesn't work that way. You can narrow the range of possible authors down to a short list, but you'll never be able to publicly point the finger at someone and say "It was you!". And even your short list will be highly debatable. The analysis could be conducted easily enough and someone could make a strong case for why they feel the conclusions are accurate, but it would be far from hard evidence. Such a thing wouldn't be admissible in court today, but eventually it could be accepted in the same way that handwriting analysis was.

I really don't think this was written by an actual congressman. It seems like more of a political piece using the "confession" motif as a rhetorical device.

The problem is that Members of Congress don't write the stuff that goes out under their name--staffers do it. Just like President Obama doesn't write his own speeches.

It's obviously not a real politician. Nowhere in the article did I see the words "my fellow Americans", and "Let me be perfectly clear".

You seem to be forgetting about ghostwriters.

"and we try to do our best", followed by an article where everyone follows the same rutted path like sheep instead of trying to break the mold. If they were trying to do their best, they wouldn't engage in filibustering and brinksmanship.

Then, near the end: "lower pay than a first-year graduate of a top law school". $174k? That's your typical graduate salary from a top law school? Yes, perhaps. If you choose the cream of the crop, in the most expensive state, with the largest firms. It's a silly comparison anyway, because first-year graduates are in their early 20s, and politicians are, for the most part, middle aged. Talented middle-aged people aren't becoming politicians because they're instead drawn by the lure of being a junior lawyer?

I mean, seriously, no-one believes that the only financial benefits federal politicians get is their salaries. Hell, the Australian Prime Minister is paid 25% more than the POTUS (or at least was, before our dollar dropped), but the current and past presidents aren't exactly strapped for cash.

A strange contradiction: the author claims that low pay is a problem with attracting talent but then explains how it's a stepping stone to lucrative lobbying jobs. I don't think there's a single person who would turn down a Congressional seat because they pay isn't high enough. Congress should have a salary that's equal to the median salary of a DC school teacher. In fact Congressional pay should be statutorily pegged to the average salary of cops, firemen, school teachers and mid-career soldiers. Those people don't get a raise, then neither should Congress.

Better yet, let's tie Congressional pay to fiscal performance: for every percentage the deficit exceeds the budget, congressional pay decreases by the same percentage. If they don't pass a budget, then they don't get paid at all. Maybe Congress (and the Executive) ought to feel the he same pain or pleasure they inflict upon the country.

On the contrary, I think congresspeople should be paid enough to be independently wealthy. At least a million dollars per year. I can think of no cheaper way to prevent corruption in congress than to make sure every congressperson has fuck you money.

I listened to an interview with one of Nixon's biographers a few years ago, and he was explaining how it was that Nixon became so corrupt, and consequently so paranoid. He was not a wealthy man when he entered politics. He got power before he got money, and the temptation to use his power to become as wealthy as his peers and associates was just to great. When your social circle includes the captains of industry, and you're still worried about day to day expenses, something is going to give.

If you want to prevent corruption among powerful people, you should pay them commensurate with their power. They have control over 100s of billions of dollars of industry, and are getting paid 200k, what do you expect them to do?

as the congress critter already identified: you are just pushing more folks who would want to do the job out.

i think there are a good sized number of folks who legitimately do the job to serve. when you hook payment to the outcome of the whole group, you effectively excluded those folks who dont naturally have a giant bank account to afford going unpaid.

I'm not sure if anyone has ever done this before, but it might be worth considering what the US Congress has done correctly. Namely, they haven't really screwed things up. America is still here, and is still the most powerful and respected* organization of humans to ever exist. That does count for something.

There was talk here not too long ago about comparing programmers who fly by the seat of their pants and end up looking like heroes to programmers who write solid, maintainable and reliable code. The boss notices when you pull an all nighter and crank out thousands of lines of code to solve a P1 critical bug. But they notice less often the programmers who write good code that doesn't produce a lot of bugs in the first place. Congress is kind of like the second programmer. Their bosses, the voters, generally pay no thought to their passing of procedural matters, vetting various candidates, oversight meetings and routine votes. C-SPAN viewership will attest to this. People only care when there is drama, scandal or crisis. It's a surprisingly thankless job, and like the all the rest of us congress people tend to focus on money as a meaningless way to keep score.

On balance, the entire US government has done more good than bad. This generation was handed a finely tuned machine with one mandate: Don't fuck it up. And they haven't so far. Of course things could always be better. I wish that congress would do the things that I want them to do, and not the things that other people want them to do. But they haven't caused me any problems in particular, and haven't harmed most of the people that I know. It's very easy to complain about how someone else does their job, but obviously difficult to do it better ourselves. We have the option of firing hundreds of them at a time. We're just waiting for them to give us a reason to do so.

* "respected" in the "envied and feared" sense, not the "what a nice bunch of people" sense

"Namely, they haven't really screwed things up."

Could it be that in the past, external factors prevented that from happening: the industrial revolution, 2 world wars, the cold war, etc. But in the world we're in now, they aren't set up properly to save the declining domestic quality of life for the average citizen (e.g., see arguments along the lines of _The Two Income Trap_)?

If your whole argument boils down to "well, we're still alive and respected", it is not a good srgument. I understand there is no "control group", but it would be interesting to see what would happen if various raised issues were resolved.

Also, I wonder whether the US will remain the most powerful nation say, 50 years down the road.

I'm not even going to honour that zealousness with a serious comment, I got too much self respect.

A piece on the salaries of ex-gov lobbyists, which may be germane: http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2014/01/21/revolving-door...

"The only threat a lot of us incumbents face is in the primaries, where someone even more extreme than we are can turn out the vote among an even smaller, more self-selected group of partisans."

From this the rest follows. Lobbying is a sweet gig because Congress is stabilized to a predictability sufficient to justify organizational investment. Congress is 'parliamentarized' because the national parties are organized around their constituent interest groups. Etc.

This certainly wasn't what the Founders hoped for. And party organization and factionalism have been the most malign factors in American history. If you think it's bad now, just thank God you aren't in the middle of a Civil War. Factionalism poisoned the Constitution even before it got started, by forcing into the document an unprincipled carve-out for slavery and a logically absurd and emotionally nauseating 3/5 "representation" for slaves.

And what's to be done about it?

The Founders were insanely smart political people, and it's a good rule of thumb that if they didn't have a constitutional answer for a political problem, there is no such answer. This guess is fortified by the failure of Abraham Lincoln, the greatest de-bugger in human history, to solve the problem. I'm not saying it's impossible to solve factionalism by some constitutional / legal hack, but I'm not holding my breath.

I think our only hope is _culture_. Our ability, as citizens, to recognize our own individual partisanships and check them. And to recognize them in our fellow citizens and resist them. We have to recognize that in our current political system, real power doesn't lie in Congress, or the Presidency, but in whatever people and forces are shaping the ideologies around which these parties are organized. We have got to identify those forces and examine their motives and prepare to break with them when they aren't serving their stated goals. For all power in all places is corruptible. We have got to start paying attention to the use of language, not to understand problems, but as a tool for political organization. We have to start recognizing the political and organizational dangers of those ideas and dreams we hold dearest, and find ways to guard against those dangers.

tldr; It is ultimately our government. Its flaws ultimately proceed from us.

If most of the seats are safe, why do they need to spend 50-75% of their time finding money to defend them? Is it all spent in primaries?

My congressman raises $100k each cycle instead of the typical $1MM+ because the seat is so safe. He has connections that keep him safe in the primaries, too.

But many congressmen can't feel that safe in primaries. And raising less money is considered to attract interest from primary challengers. So raising millions is a prophylactic against possibly really needing to spend that kind of money against a serious challenge.

Why would you have to keep raising it?

You win the primary, then why spend the million in the chest as the seat is safe?

The arguments are contradictory. Either the seats aren't safe or everyone has to spend more time fundraising to fight than legislating.

I think it means they're "safe" from the opposing team. Not "safe" from other members from your own team.

Then again, I'm not 100% sure on the way this whole thing works in detail. So I'm definitely open to being corrected.

They're safe if you spend the money, but you have to spend the money.

Maybe doing away with Robert's Rules style bullshit would help some. Everything about the manner in which congress operates is basically designed for partisan gridlock. All sorts of organizations today realize this and use neutral facilitation and better open discussion and decision processes. Under congressional rules, members have to propose bills first rather than agree about problems and then discuss solutions and come to consensus.

Also, score voting would solve a lot: http://rangevoting.org/

The business of Congress isn't done on the floor of Congress. What happens on the floor of Congress is split between theatre and holding votes that the respective party whips already know the outcome of.

The business of Congress is done in closed door meetings behind the scenes.

"We aren't going to change the Constitution" .. why not?

Changing the Constitution requires 2/3rds of each house of Congress. [0] If there were such a strong majority for reform, the reform would already be law.

[0] Amendments also require majority agreement in both houses of 3/4ths of the state legislatures.

That's one out of two ways to change the constitution. It can also be initiated by the states without the involvement of Congress. See [1]. This is the strategy being adopted by the Wolf PAC[2] which is seeking to pass an amendment abolishing corporate personhood & publicly financing elections.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_Five_of_the_United_Stat... 2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_PAC

The constitution changes slowly, but it does change. There were 12 amendments to it during the 20th century.


The thing I fear more than the Congressional institution that we're currently burdened with is a constitutional convention.

If it's so bad, why did the author run for Congress at all? I wish (s)he had explained their motivation to run for office.

There is a progression from idealism to disillusion to professionalism to monetization.

You start out with high hopes of making a real difference. That runs smack into a complicated and compromised system, which makes you disillusioned. You try hard to figure things out and do useful things. Eventually, you understand how things work and how to make the system work for you, which makes you a political professional. Those skills are very valuable and you see your peers making a killing with them. Not wanting to be the local chump, you use the skills to your own advantage, which is monetization.

It's a natural mistake. In the 1980s, I had a friend who wanted to be Senator because he thought it was the best job in the world. Seriously. What's more, he had a background in really understanding this stuff from childhood -- he was Richard Neustadt, Jr. And he'd been working toward it all his life.

What actually happened is that he died in a tragic accident, so I never had a chance to discuss how his views might have changed. :(

I enjoy the tension that exists between the first two points.

Interpreting with some hostility, Congress is not out of touch with people that have money back home. Which means they are probably mostly out of touch with people back home.

My guess is "in touch with" is intended to mean understanding, not necessarily reliability... meaning, they know exactly what the majority of their community wants, but the paradigm rewards self interest which often runs contrary to the majority given the way that power & wealth naturally consolidate.

> We have a parliament without any ability to take executive action. We should not be surprised we are gridlocked.

I think the vast majority of new laws don't serve the people's interest. So I welcome the gridlock.

Hmmm. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

it floats up with best timing as House of cards 3 due to release this month

tl;dr; Everything about Congress is utterly and hopelessly skewed towards corruption.

Wow, surprise.

No wonder approval ratings are so low.

We're missing some other important insights here:

1) Congress is in a bed of its own making. Most all of the problems listed here were created by Congress itself. And it could change any of them with a few simple votes. But it will not, because Congress has always sought out the least risky structures. No matter what this congressman might say, the behavior is obvious: nobody wants to be a Congressman making the tough choices; running with the herd is much safer.

2) Congress doesn't seek out the money, the money seeks out the Congress. The congressmen just go and ask for it. Congressmen aren't on TV with a telethon to save orphans from cancer -- they are not begging for bucks. Instead, there's a ton of money out there already from lobbyists and PACs that are just waiting for the right politician to come along. It's not begging -- it's more like auditioning for a part. The key question is this: can you stick with the national message, keep the troops fired up, and still take this money? If so, take it! You need it. If not? You've got some more auditions to do. There's plenty of folks wanting to influence the sausage making. It's a numbers game.

It's important to understand this distinction because the driver here is the political power that Congress wields, not the guys with the checkbooks. If, by some miracle, you could pull all the money out of politics? It'd be the same old dance, just with government contracts and cushy political jobs. This has been going on since Washington was president. The problem now is that the stakes are tremendously higher now than they used to be. Political power always trumps money -- that's why money chases it. That's why politicians continue to create new structures where their power can be exercised.

3) While the smart people may not run, there are a ton of folks who have already struck it rich and now just want another feather in their cap. Congress is the way to do that. One senate majority leader said that running the senate was like having to manage 100 little Napoleons.

4) Yes, in the overall the Congress may be having problems getting together, but the individual role of Congressman is a pretty cool gig. All government agencies have special hotlines for you to get special attention. You get to ride around in helicopters, meet foreign leaders, magically make investments that soar, get schmoozed by celebrities -- the perks go on and on. So let's not blow smoke up anybody's posterior: if the job wasn't attractive, most of the people who are currently congressmen would step down. That's not happening.

5) Congress is not only necessary to save the country, they've been sleeping on the job. You can be cold and bitterly truthful without being cynical. Things are broken for a reason. Understanding those reasons is the first step in fixing the system. I worry that people who hate on cynics are really just saying "Become emotionally fired up and follow us on faith. We'll get you there!" Sorry, I don't do that -- and I think we're nearing the end of that attitude being helpful. In fact, it's beginning to sound like cheerleading on the Titanic. Let's be blunt and honest. If the republic depends on my losing my critical thinking skills then it's in worse shape than I think. Honesty, learning from history, and being aware and critical of the many ways governments screw up is what created the structure of the country, and its the only true way forward. You cannot fix something you are not prepared to talk honestly about.

"Congress is in a bed of its own making. " Not entirely. Congress passed campaign finance reform. The supreme court ruled a lot of it unconsititutional.

A better title: "9 obvious political facts we hashed together to make a cool headline."

1) Of course. Everybody is short-sighted and the goal is to keep the constituents at bay for the next election cycle. Wait long enough, and you're basically set depending on how deep of a shade your district is.

2) Well, yeah. Nobody donates except for old people (barely), rich people, and unions/corps. A house campaign in a "safe" district in my state costs over $8M, and very little of that comes from your "average" citizen. Thus, fundraisers with rich people. It's an arms race, because you don't want to be caught without money unless your opponent goes balls-to-the-wall -- then it can be used to your advantage. ("Hey, look, he's a corporate/union/out of state shill!") edit: also, sorting remits sucks. Super boring because most is pennies save for a few large checks.

3) This one is probably one of the worst depending where you come from. A state like mine doesn't have many issues, whereas some of the states with a very black and white demographic makeup (I mean that in more ways than one) have a lot more issues.

4) Yeah. It's frightening almost. Still, it depends on the data sets. Many state parties have POS data sets that still rely on a top-down method of data insertion that sucks. Also, the more rural you get the less accurate the data is. (Although, there are other methods of voter ID for rural voters.)

5) Part of this is due to the polarization of the U.S., but yeah. I mean, theoretically we're supposed to have a slow-moving congress, and separation of powers (exec, leg, judicial) is a good thing.

6) Ooooh yeah. Get on the (depends if you're talking about state or national congress) finance committee, ways and means, etc and all of sudden you're powerful. I should mention, though, that at the local level committee meetings are taken much more seriously.

7 and 8) Yeah. One of the best ways to make connections is through politics. I know people who are absolutely useless but make nearly six figures because they worked on a campaign, ran one, worked as an la, and finally got a position on a "policy group" or as a staffer. All of a sudden you have a bunch of people vouching for you, regardless of your competency. If other professions worked this way (e.g. doctors, lawyers) we'd all be dead or in jail.

9) Apathy is the killer. Nobody cares anymore, and it's sad. If people would care, learn about the issues and people, show up to local hearings, actually do things then we'd see real change. If people wouldn't be so polarized and view the world as black and white maybe we'd end up voting clowns out of office... although, that does require people to actually vote.

> If people would care, learn about the issues and people, show up to local hearings, actually do things...

I went to a local hearing once, about a proposal for a leisure centre to be built on some grass pitches in our town.

At the meeting we were informed that we could not object to the proposal except on economic or environmental grounds. The effects on the living standards of local residents, and peoples' current use of the pitches, were irrelevant.

The proposal passed, of course, because the economic benefit for the local government of a leisure centre is greater than some free-to-use pitches.

That's why people are apathetic: everything is stacked against them and the only representation they can make is disregarded.

>4) Yeah. It's frightening almost. Still, it depends on the data sets. Many state parties have POS data sets that still rely on a top-down method of data insertion that sucks. Also, the more rural you get the less accurate the data is. (Although, there are other methods of voter ID for rural voters.)

I remember reading Zell Miller(former Georgia Gov, and Senator)'s Biography. There was a story about his mother being the chairwoman of the Young Harris Democratic Party. The job of the party chair in those days (great depression era) was keeping the party files which consisted of notebooks, notecards, file folders etc on every voter in the county. family information, social relationships, interests, pain points. which is the exact same information that is valuable in politics today, just gathered by different means.

Congress is still necessary to save America...

When you think like that, then you're part of the problem, not part of the solution.

This was a funny statement;

  Without crooked districts, most members of Congress
  probably would not have been elected.
I can say with certainty that without crooked districts every member of congress would still have been elected. I mean, I get what Anon is trying to say, but it hints at a very slanted / anti-voter world view. This is my surprised face :-|

I'm also very skeptical that it's actually a congressman; if the person is this bitter about Washington why did they just spend so much effort getting elected 3 months ago?

Beyond that, members DON'T vote with party leadership 99% of the time. If you count enough procedural votes it might feel that way, but that's just silly.

This emphasis on "talent" in Congress also seems like it's not from a Congressmen.

I suppose this could be a particularly unambitious backbencher from a safe seat (which would also explain why they don't care about committees).

The author doesn't sound bitter to me. The author sounds frustrated.

Imagine a similar article about a programming language. The point is to give people a deeper understanding of the problem domain so that they can help contribute useful solutions, rather than proposing completely pointless or counterproductive ones.

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