It’s depressing to read poll after poll highlighting Americans’ utter disdain for Congress. But it’s my encounters with ordinary citizens at public meetings or in casual conversation that really bring me up short. In angry diatribes or in resigned comments, people make clear their dwindling confidence in both politicians and the institution itself.
With all Congress’ imperfections — its partisanship, brinksmanship, and exasperating inability to legislate — it’s not hard to understand this loss of faith. Yet as people vent their frustration, I hear something else as well. It is a search for hope. They ask, almost desperately sometimes, about grounds for renewed hope in our system. Here’s why I’m confident that we can do better.
Let’s start with a point that should be obvious, but that people rarely notice: Our expectations are too high. In part, this is our elected officials’ fault: They over-promise and underperform. They set the bar high — promising strong leadership, a firm hand on the legislative tiller, and great policy accomplishments — then usually fail to clear it.