Ralph Benko
Americans just cast ballots for president, for the House, and for a third of the U.S. Senate, plus various local offices and referenda in our splendid Quadriennale. It is a moment for reflection … about our expectations of our elected officials. Our national political Narrative is fixated on the presidency while, Constitutionally, the House of Representatives is our key governing body. The presidency — as well as the campaign for that splendid star turn — turns out to be 90% theater and 10% substance.

But rather than getting cynical about the theatrical component of politics, let’s look to the source of it. As that great and humble populist Pogo famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We, the people, simultaneously revile and revere our officials. According to Gallup Politics, Congress has a popular approval rating of … 13%, the lowest ever recorded in an election year. And yet… we voters will re-elect almost all Congressional incumbents … just as we ought to do. What’s up with that?

This columnist spends a considerable time on Capitol Hill meeting with legislative staff from both sides of the aisle. Reporting back from the front, the House is Occupied by generally delightful, smart, publicly spirited people who are underpaid relative to the level of responsibility they shoulder. And they — officials and staff both — uniformly are deeply eager to please their bosses … the voters.

And their bosses, the voters, see these pleasant, if plain, folks as some kind of superheroes who must demonstrate to the voters that they are … faster than a speeding bullet, able to bend steel in their bare hands, more powerful than a locomotive, capable of changing the course of mighty rivers, and leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Look. Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … Congressman!

The Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, at base a great populist humanitarian, summed up the fundamental predicament in his Last Words (written in 1926, considerably before his actual last words):

Ralph Benko

Ralph Benko, author of The Websters’ Dictionary: How to use the Web to transform the world. He serves as an advisor to and editor of the Lehrman Institute's thegoldstandardnow.org and senior advisor to the American Principles Project.