One of the safest assumptions in politics these days is that Americans don’t much care for Congress. A whole raft of opinion polls tell the story – only about one person in four thinks Congress is doing a good job.
But those are just percentages. When I spent two months on the road last year talking to people along U.S. Route 50 – from California to Maryland – one question I asked them was to give me a word or a short phrase to describe Congress as they saw it.
I make no bones about this being a scientific sample. These were just people I walked up to in small towns and big cities across the middle of the country – though I did keep it even between Democrats and Republicans. I’ve divided their answers into three sections: responses that were given by more than one person, short answers that were unique, and longer answers. Each group is arranged in alphabetical order.
Clearly, these responses are not something you can quantify like percentages in a poll. But taken together, the tapestry of answers gives a pretty good sense of what’s on Americans’ mind when they stop for a minute and think about the institution of Congress:
Answers given by more than one person:
A mess (5) Dishonest (4) Ineffective (3) Self-serving (3) Dysfunctional (2) Greedy (2) Out of touch (2) Partisan (2) Sucks (2) Wishy-washy (2)
Other short answers
A battleground that I wouldn’t want to be in A bit of a dangerous stalemate A bunch of gray-hairs. Misguided maybe. But I have a lot of respect for them. A joke…. I just think they’ve lost their credibility. A lot of money A representative group Accomplishing All I can say is it’s good if it works right. Balanced Balancing a checkbook Basically, the less they do the better the country is. Battlefield Battling issues Bottle-necked Bought Bowl of stew Bureaucrats Chaos Conflicted Confusing. Kindergarten. Filibuster makes me crazy. Congress is kind of a mess. Cowed Crooked Deadlocked Decisions Deliberative and bureaucratic. Divisive Doing a fair job Doing a pretty good job Doubtful Eunuch Even worse Fair Fat and sassy Fighting with each other Fragmented, and beginning to be influenced way too much by the wrong forces. Gamey Good Gridlock Iffy, totally In constant conflict inept Insular It’s messed up right now. Jackasses Joke Lazy Liberal Lobbyists Lock-step Looking the other way Misled Mixed Money Money talks Money-makers. More idiots Muddled Need a good old housecleaning there. Needs more backbone, follow-through on what they believe. Needs new leadership. Needs to improve No backbone Noisy Non-existent Not effective Not enough men of color Nothing comes to mind. Void? Okay Opportunists Out for themselves Out of touch with what the country needs. Overpaid, self-centered, self-serving. Non-empathetic. Overpaid. Too many laws. Jefferson would flip in his pine box… Pain in the ass Peons Politicians Probably governed by lobbyists too much Republican Self-interested Self-obsessed Slow Slow-moving Struggling The same as they’ve always been They just continually fight each other. They don’t work together good enough. They got too much time on their hands They need to be shipped out of the country and start over again. They need to learn to get along better. They take a lot of vacations. They’re into self-service. They’re just spending too much time [working to get reelected]. They’re stupid. Too big. Ineffective. Manipulated by lobbyists. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Too many people that have spent too many years doing nothing Too many people, too many opinions Too many Republicans Too many Republicans in the House. Unbalanced. Too old Too partisan. Republicans and Democrats are both too identifiable with their party. Trapped in its own turmoil. Unworkable, unworking Waste of taxpayers’ money. Wasteful Weird Well-intentioned Wimps. Not the spine to stand up to him [Bush]. Work in progress Worthless
535 prima donnas that are all waiting for somebody to call them and ask them to be president.
A bunch of rich elected representatives that have more of their own agenda than the people’s agenda in mind.
A bunch of uppity people that just want their pockets lined.
A bunch of yammerheads talking their heads off in a big room with wooden walls and floors
A committee. Ninety percent are trying to do the best they can, 95 percent probably are.
A conglomeration of pretty sound, intelligent guys and some absolute zeros. They couldn’t come out of the rain, some of them.
A necessary evil. It’s kind of like our legislature. Every once in a while you have to step back and wonder why we need so many laws. But it works. They do good things, as well as things I think are not so great.
Adequate. Better than it ever has been, as far as the Republican Party is concerned anyway.
As a whole, our country has been led very well, I think, over the years, by our congressmen. I mean they play politics. It’s dirty and screwed up. But I give them a B.
Congress is a joke. Congress is where you go when your practice isn’t doing good. Everybody in Congress is either a doctor or lawyer. I mean these people are getting paid $100,000 a year and you know the average citizen can’t make ends meet. And these guys are getting two paychecks. And what are they doing?
Congress is always give and taking too much. You do this for my party, I do this for you…. We have too much give and take. I think we should be focusing on what the people want, and not give and take.
Congress is simply too political. Congress needs to get back to what we the people elected them to do, and that’s to make our laws.
Congress spends too much time looking after themselves, and not for the good of the country.
I don’t know much about Congress, I’m ashamed to say.
I don’t understand some of the behavior. It’s very childish to me. One thing I think they ought to get rid of is the filibuster. And I don’t like pork-barreling either, not at all. I don’t think they should be allowed to tack little things onto bigger things. I think that’s very wrong.
I feel like they’re lemmings, I feel like they’re just now slowly getting out of this long-term stupor.
I guess they are kind of divided, maybe. But everybody tries to get their point over.
I guess they’re a group of people trying to do the best they can, but what a horrible system they have.
I kind of see them like lobbyists.
I know there’s quite a few that are tremendous leaders probably. And then I think there’s just a whole bunch of politicians. And I’m not always sure they really know honestly, from where they’re at, how it is to be where the majority of people are.
I think most of them vote Republican because they are Republican. And I think that the Democrats do the same thing. And that’s not right. If you know something’s wrong and you vote for it just because you belong to the party, that’s wrong. That’s not serving the people of the United States. And I think that’s what they do more and more.
I think personally Congress is not any better than any lobbies out there. They’re just doing what they’re being asked to do. They’re not doing anything on their own. Because everybody’s afraid of their seat. They’re afraid if they went out of the ordinary and asked some questions or they did something out of the ordinary, they’d be thrown out at the next election.
I think that Congress may actually be the power source in our country. I think I have more faith in Congress — for all their squabbling, their procrastination – in seeing the betterment of our nation than the president’s vision.
I think the rules are made for them, and not for everyday people.
I think they’re influenced by their own power.
I think there’s a lot of old deadwood there that needs to be removed out, that has been there a long, long time and it becomes an issue of, you know, gee I’ve got lots of power and you’re not going to push me out and I can do what I want to do. I think it’s hurt our country. We haven’t really passed term limits on Congress, have we? Maybe we need to think in terms of that – 16 years is the max you can serve, or something like that.
I think they need to eliminate some people in there – get some of the older people out and get some new fresh faces in it.
I think they spend most of their time up there asleep. And not listening to the people.
I think they tend to look out for the party instead of the country.
I think they’re intimidated by the strong arm Republicans, to the point where they’re nervous about voting things that would represent their people. Because if they don’t represent what the strong arm of the Republican Party wants they might get kicked out. I think it’s like the bully syndrome. You appease the bully.
I think they’re getting better. Even sometimes those Democrats speak out against a Democrat, instead of just following the herd.
I think we’re very poorly represented in Congress
I wish they’d do more, instead of bicker all the time and worry about whether we’re forgiving people for lynching people back in the lynching days and stuff like that. Like the guys in Sacramento, they’re worried about where ice cream trucks park and where dogs get cosmetic surgery. They need to worry about the big picture.
I wish they’d find common ground and quit fighting.
I wish we could rid of all this pork – you do this for me and I’ll do that for you. Can’t we just narrow some of these things down?
Overall both parties need some kind of a shift.
Overall I think Congress is trying to do the right thing, in most cases.
People who are trying to get their job done in at least time as possible, catering to the people who have the most money.
Probably different at different times, under different circumstances and conditions. They have a lot of power and my wish would be that they wouldn’t abuse that power. They have a job to do and this talk about endorsing some of the candidates and all that the president had put up to them, and then wanting to filibuster and carry on forever and ever, and all their kind of threats. Yes, that’s there for a reason, they have those rights. But I would think that in this day and age we are intelligent enough to work things out without having to go to extremes.
Probably the least respected body that should be most respected…. They should be some of the highest ranking, intelligent, and respected people that we elect. And I think their performance is abysmal, it’s so poor. I just don’t respect them as a body. Which is unfortunate.
Republicans, stick to your guns. Democrats, let the people decide.
Right now I wish they would get something done. Although that’s a bad thing too…
Right now they’re kind of iffy.
Right now, incompetent because they’re listening to George Bush
Running roughshod over rights of people, and over what’s best for the country. Secretive
Self-serving… They’ve never seen a pay raise they didn’t like, or a benefit for themselves they didn’t like, and yet they’re really slow to do that for the general public.
So-so. Congress always pulls itself out, because there are 14 or 15 individuals who will always campaign straight and think about the country and nothing else.
The Republican majority is extremely wishy-washy. And the Democratic minority is extremely persistent and seemingly more successful than the majority Republicans.
They are ineffective. They need to start doing their jobs, instead of fighting each other.
They need to let go of the special interests and start taking care of those they really represent.
They’re definitely impacting the way the country goes.
They’re doing a job that’s difficult…. I don’t think they have really the time or the effort to get out and mingle with the general public. And I think that’s a big mistake. In campaigning, we’re going to have a campaign here, so you have 100,000 people show up and you go down and you shake hands with everybody. “Hi, how you doing?” Do you know anything about those people as soon as you’re gone? I don’t think so. I know more about you, since you been sitting in there, through conversation. But I don’t know any of those people in Washington.
They’re kind of a sorry lot. They’re money grabbers. That might not be true with everybody, and I don’t mean that it is. But, they spend too much of their time to get reelected for the next time.
They’re okay. Senate lousy. This filibustering is a waste of time and effort and money.
Trying to do a job, to a certain extent. But I think they’re more or less concerned about their political futures than anything else.
Very testy. People that are indecisive, and have a lot of lack of knowledge what really is needed in this country.
We’ve had so many senators from Nebraska would go, they said they run on a campaign they want to do this… and they go back there and you see them, they’re quoted in the paper a lot and they’re trying to get things done. And pretty soon … they have to fall in line with the other senators to get anything done. You have to go back there and play the games and do what the big boys want you to do. It’s not a level keel, in my opinion.
Well I don’t think they’re doing their job.
When I think of Congress I just think of a bunch of politicians. I don’t think of them as people representing us as much as I think of them as people playing politics on a daily basis.