THE BLOG

Who Does Your Representative Represent?

04/29/2013 04:18 EDT | Updated 06/29/2013 05:12 EDT

It took four months to go from the tragedy of Newtown to the disgraceful lack of leadership that saw the United States Congress -- with its 15% approval rating take action to block the will of 92% of the American people.

In contrast, it took less than a single week to move from the mild inconvenience of delays in affordable, safe, high-speed air travel to the embarrassment of legislation being passed to roll back the first-world irritation of postponed commercial flight.

Let's put this in context (through Public Policy Polling's January numbers): Americans reportedly think more highly of colonoscopies, cockroaches, and traffic jams than they do our congressional delegation. So if we wouldn't tolerate NFL replacement referees (who outrank congress 56/29) negatively effecting the outcome of regular season GAMES, why on earth would we allow an organization with just 15% of our good will to vote against our express wishes on an issue that impacts the safety of our own friends and family?

15% vs. 92%.

In this matchup, 15% doesn't win.

Regardless of one's side on the issue, if 92% of the population wants to convert to the metric system -- we convert to metric. Ninety-two per cent in favour of changing the national anthem to Guns N' Roses' Sweet Child 'O Mine? I'm sorry...the masses have spoken.

But we are told of a political stasis that is simply slow, entrenched, and ultimately immoveable. That the system is just too broken. That obvious steps for common-sense safety regulations take four months to sort out -- only to be shelved as soon as it is time for open debate.

But then -- just one week later -- we see the striking athleticism of Congress on a mission. Suddenly, they are able to find compromise on (at least part of) an issue that had been stuck for 18 months between a rock, another rock, some bedrock, a layer of slate, and some sort of a hard place. If the challenge were anything less -- surely we would not have found ourselves under SEQUESTER conditions in the first place.

Who thought that we could take an un-aimed 10% slash out of the federal budget without feeling some sort of aggravation or inconvenience? Well, evidently a majority of the US Congress, a variety of American media outlets, and every member of a math-denying Tea Party.

Was the assumption, honestly, that every budget line-item is bloated by 12-15% worth of waste and redundancy that has gone unnoticed for 20 years, but that -- when properly pressured -- could be identified and eliminated in 6-8 weeks? Was the underlying belief really that billions of dollars can disappear without a hint of pain?

It seems to me that we all intuitively know that nice things cost money.

Educated children: costs money.

Safe food, water, and working conditions: costs money.

And a 21st century transportation system marked by safety, accessibility, and ease: costs money.

But after decades of lies, manipulations, and half-truths, it gets hard to tell up from down. Both sides (the Left & Right) have held fast to the falsehood that all cuts are equal. Republicans insisting that all cuts (except those ending in "entagon") are freedom-enhancing stimulants --and Democrats selling the line that no one can have a warm-blooded beating heart and vote to cut a single dollar from government spending. Somewhere within this unhealthy standoff is a fundamental disconnect between the nice things we want and the very real costs these things carry.

It is really quite damning when you think about the comparatively small demographic most drastically affected by flight delays.

Big business

Politicians

And major journalism outlets/personalities

You know who is impacted by reductions in Head-Start, Meals On Wheels, and on-the-ground Americorps staffing?

Single parents

Middle class families

And,most critically, children!

Notice the lack of overlap here?

Notice where all the frantic chatter is focused?

Legislative activity moving a bit more swiftly for one camp over the other?

We are dealing with disconnected realities in which we only recognize cuts when they hit in our own back yards. And fundamentally--the back yards of the wealthy, powerful, and decision-makers are increasingly located further from the under-resourced, under-developed, and under-represented.

Congress is, on its best days, skating on thin ice. And yet, these representatives have dared to, in one week--thumb their nose at the people and ever so slowly "go rogue" for the sake of...presumably...some sort of math that says a "no" vote on the most basic of gun legislation ensures them an easier path to electoral victory next time around. And then the next week we see the swift agility of NIMBYism on display. Budget cuts? Of course...just not in MY back yard. Your back yard? Sure. Especially if your backyard is outside of my gated community.

On one hand, it is hard to blame our congressional delegation for acting in a way no better or worse than the infighting that many of us exhibit when our kid's school district has to shuffle resources around (not in my back yard--or--not from my back yard!).

But this is the job that they signed up for. As representatives...they must do better than our own knee-jerk(ish) reactions. They owe us leadership. They owe us, as 90% of the population, some sort of acknowledgement. They owe us--dare I say--representation.

Which begs the question: when a 90/10 issue goes down with feet dragging every step of the way, WHO do our representatives represent?