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Ideal vs Actuality

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Saved by Jacob Rosenblum
on December 13, 2009 at 8:54:15 am
Ideal Vs. Actuality
    Congress, at least in other government text books, is depicted as a cooperative and swift body that may incur change at the drop of a hat. Well... get ready... because If you thought Congress was simple and efficient, it's far from it. And If you considered Congress to be a well oiled machine, guess what? It isn't. And if you even thought for a second, that everyone's thoughts and feelings are heard, including your own, I sincerely apologize to be the bearer of bad news because this is simply not the case. Read this section to learn what Congress outside of a textbook is like in the eyes of an 18-year-old government student. 
     Some believe Congress to be a constructive place where bills are drafted with a smile and are cooperatively edited to ensure that they are constitutional. Along with this ideal depiction, the Congressman/woman has come to be viewed in an almost romantic light- thought of as a selfless civil servants committed to fighting for their district. I am here to inform those who have not taken AP Government or even read a single newspaper that this is tragically not how Congress or democracy for that matter functions. 
             To think democracy is actually as easy/straightforward as it had been made to sound in elementary school is a mistake and is severely not the case.  Congress similar to democracy cannot be executed without an extensive bureaucracy. A plethora of committees, subdivisions and a million other groups/people make democracy function. Congress is one such cog in the machine and is not spared the consequences attached with trying to uphold such a laborious form of government-Democracy. The ironic part of  a bureaucratically sustained Democracy is that it becomes increasingly undemocratic the more government grows. 
             Woodrow Wilson claimed that, “[Congress] is too complex to be understood without an effort, without a careful and systematic process of analysis”. Oh boy, was he right… Wilson, shortly after, goes on to critique the structure of Congress and indirectly alludes to the problems associated with not having a leader or a powerful head. By saying, “It is this multiplicity of leaders, this many-headed leadership, which makes the organization of the House too complex to afford uninformed people and unskilled observers any easy clue to its methods of rule” (). I believe strongly that Wilson is critiquing not only the intricacy of Congress, but also the lack of responsibility and accountability associated with such a large and relatively hierarchical, yet ambiguous entity. What role if any can the common citizen play if he/she can’t even understand the body that represents them much less hold it accountable. 
            Another concept addressed by Wilson is the formation of a bill. He comes at this process from the viewpoint of a freshman Congressman, who like myself obviously didn’t realize how Congress REALLY works saying, “His disappointment is… very keen when he finds both opportunity and means denied him. He can introduce his bill; but that is all he can do, and he must do that at a particular time and in a particular manner….” (). He later goes on to extend the implications of a Congressman’s naiveté and indirectly concludes that bills are rarely proposed and argued by an individual representative, but rather bills that are successful and are later argued on the floor, are those that are drawn up by the congressional committees themselves. This definitely shattered my notion of how Congress functions. For some reason I thought Congress might choose to empower the individual voice rather than those already established. I definitely recognize the efficiency factor that exists here, but I feel as though this is not a true democratic process if the individual is often times left out due to time constraints. 
             Morris P. Fiorina, proposed the concept of the “self-interest axiom”, which assumes that the “primary goal of the typical congressman is reelection”. This wasn’t as much of a surprise, as I might have alluded just because in all actuality, maintaining dominance seems like a completely rational human desire even for political representatives to have. Though I can understand and somewhat identify with the self-interest axiom, doesn’t mean I condone its immediate effects. The reading suggests that representatives who are not primarily interested in reelection will not achieve reelection as often as those representatives who are interested (). When reelection becomes a politician’s main concern his/her attention fades from controversial issues where he/she can gain bad reputation to slightly safer works including, pork barreling and constituency support. If reelection takes precedence over actual representation… we have a huge problem its unfortunate that it’s nearly impossible to discern personal interest of the representative from the interest of a diverse district. We just have to trust this is kept to a minimum and that promise of reelection does not spoil the possibility of needed reform.
            Lawrence Dodd in his work, Congress and the Quest for Power, recognizes another facet of Congress that dovetails a few of the points made above. Dodd claimed all congressmen crave power and yearn to have a say in matters. Dodds, curiously is of the belief that Congressmen and women don’t in fact restrict their actions to reelection-relevant chores, and points out that if congressmen only saw their position as a means to gain reelection, “we would expect them to spend little time in Washington and devote their personal efforts to constituent speeches and district casework. One would expect Congress to be run by a centralized, efficient staff who, in league with policy-oriented interest groups, would draft legislation, investigate the issues, frame palatable solutions, and present the members with the least controversial bills possible” (). Since this isn’t the case, and representatives DO spend a lot of time in Washington and DO pass controversial legislation Dodd implies that the career of a representative isn’t dominated by ego or hope for reelection; work is still being done.
            Through these readings, I have come to terms with my misconceptions and have realized that Congress in actuality is a fluctuating machine that is dependent upon the condition and size of our government and the underlying purity of our democracy. There are many things wrong with Congress- shoddy accountability, blurred intention, and notoriously slow legislation, but an attempted fix in my opinion, would bring about another set of entirely new issues that would compromise our democracy and possible the constitution. The problems our Congress faces currently in comparison to what could possibly be, is a huge grounding force for me. As much as I dislike the idea of my Congressman seeking reelection more fervently than a solution to healthcare I'm strangely okay with that because I know it could be far worse. Problems such as these described in the readings have been around since the formation of Congress and are already so engrained into our legislative system. Much of what we hate about Congress are unfortunate truths that automatically come by allowing others to represent the interest of the individual.


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