Tuesday, October 1, 2013

If Congress Were a TV Show

If Congress were a TV show, it would be canceled today.

That’s one way to explain how unpopular Congress has become, with just 10 percent approval in the latest CNN poll. That’s the lowest that that particular measure has ever recorded.

The approval rating for the Tea Party movement is also the lowest ever recorded, and the Republican and Democratic parties aren’t doing so well either in the poll. But it is Congress’s rating that has fallen by half in the past month, and it is an understandable reaction when people read of Washington fat cats cheering and slapping each other on the back over their refusal to go to work. Political ratings go up and down, but there is a risk when they sink this low. The public tunes out, the show is canceled, and then there isn’t a way to talk your way out of the jam. The previous president discovered this after the bungled Jackson Square speech in New Orleans, in which he appeared to be hallucinating in the immediate aftermath of a major natural disaster. After that, few were eager to give him another chance. He gave better speeches over the next three years, but only his friends and family were listening. Leaders in Congress can continue to talk to the TV microphones, but it’s not a given that the public will listen for longer than ten seconds, and that’s not long enough to explain away a mess like this.

Of course, this is a much worse problem for the Republicans in Congress than it is for the Democrats. The Congress Show may have been canceled, but the White House Show is still running, with ratings basically where they have been all year. Ironically, a government shutdown makes the President a more important and intriguing character than he was already, virtually guaranteeing that the White House can be renewed for another season.