Search This Blog

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Democracy, Deliberation, Distrust

At the Des Moines Register, Professor Christopher Larimer of the University of Northern Iowa writes about a paradox:
When Congress is doing the job it was designed to do, Americans tend to have the least respect for it. Survey after survey shows that what drives disapproval of Congress is the perception of constant bickering and an inability to compromise.

Yet, if you read over the founding documents, that is exactly what Congress is supposed to do. It is supposed to be the source of constant deliberation. Unfortunately, for Congress, people tend to view bickering with suspicion. In fact, for most people, the image of constant bickering fuels suspicion that members of Congress are acting on their own self interest rather than the public interest — everyone should be able to agree on what is best for the public, so any disagreement means that somebody is trying to carve out a little extra for themselves.

The debt deal debate magnified this perception beyond compare. Fully 71 percent of the public now thinks members of Congress (as a whole) do not deserve re-election according to a Gallup poll released the same day as the CNN/ORC poll.

The images we saw on television and read about in the newspapers surrounding the debt deal exemplified this paradox brilliantly. President Obama calling out Republicans and House Speaker John Boehner by name, followed by Speaker Boehner’s rebuttal, presented the American public with as sharp an image of this bickering as we’ve seen for some time.

As the bickering became more intense, trust and approval of Congress declined. The more Congress argues and deliberates, the more the paradox of distrust takes hold.