Congress in the Dumps

There is no other way to spin it. The Democratic-led Congress has lost the confidence of the American people. Their 18 percent approval rating is the lowest in history. In the same poll, President Bush’s approval ratings beat the Democrats by two touchdowns. And by no means is this president popular. 

Why have Democrats done such a lousy job in appealing to the American people? Aside from incompetence, I think it has a lot to do with their bitter brand of partisanship.

The highest approval for the Congress in the last 50 years came in the days after Sept. 11, 2001. Denny Hastert and Dick Gephardt did a series of joint television appearances where they showed they were working together to put America back on its feet. They actually looked like they even liked each other. And the Congress produced results, passing legislation that rebuilt New York, increased the surveillance capabilities of America’s spy agencies, and stabilized the airline industry.

Today, it is a different story.

House Democrats botched a vote on an agriculture appropriations bill, leading to accusations of fraud. Angry words filled the floor. They passed meaningless resolutions on the war to appeal to their political base. One Democratic leader actually said that failure in Iraq was good politically for the party.

Not much statesmanship in either the House or the Senate, with the notable exception being Richard Lugar, a Republican.

There is not much of a window for the Congress to make an impression on the American people, and that window is closing rapidly. With a wide-open primary on both sides, the news media are already obsessed with the presidential race. They will ignore the Congress, as most of the best reporters will be on the road with the candidates.

I don’t think Speaker Pelosi is capable of moving to the center to achieve real results in a bipartisan fashion. She is already being attacked from the left (by Cindy Sheehan) for not moving articles of impeachment against the president and vice president. She will continue to force the Democrats to the left, but won’t have the votes to appease her rabid base. In the process, she will continue to alienate independents and moderate Republicans.

I don’t see how the Democrats reverse this dynamic.

While the conventional wisdom is that the Republicans don’t have a shot in 2008, don’t be so sure about that assumption. It will be hard for many of the so-called Blue Dog Democrats to be part of the most despised Congress in history and make the case for reelection.