According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans' confidence in Congress is not only at an historic low – 10 percent – but it's the lowest level of confidence for any institution on record. Increased gridlock and the failure to compromise are the primary reasons cited for why Americans have so little faith in Congress.
In America's eyes, Congress is failing them because of their inability to find common ground and work toward solutions as opposed to grandstanding and posturing for the cameras.
It would seem that candidates looking to be elected to Congress would see those numbers and recognize that the American people are looking to reward function over form. What seems obvious isn't always so: two recently announced candidates for the U.S. Senate have interpreted the will of the people in very different ways.
Cory Booker, current Democratic Mayor of Newark and candidate for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey, was questioned recently about his governing style. He responded by saying, "At the end of the day [the people of New Jersey] will applaud my ability to articulate where I am different than the other side. But what they really want is somebody to build a framework of where we can be together." His approach would clearly be "old school." Apparently, he knows from experience. As mayor, it was for the benefit of all that he worked through compromises with both a Republican governor and a Democratic City Council.
On the other side of the equation an evangelist for "new school" thinking, Liz Cheney recently announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Wyoming by implying it is patriotic to be an obstructionist: "We've got to stand and fight, and we have to defend what we believe in. We have to not be afraid of being called obstructionists." Part of her stated rationale for running is her belief that the current officeholder, GOP Sen. Mike Enzi, compromised too often for the good of Wyoming. It should be noted that Enzi has one of the 10 most conservative voting records in the Senate, hardly the mark of a maverick.
This hyperpartisan language might be fine for campaigning but is counterproductive for governing. The last congress was the least productive in more than six decades, in large part due to the fear by legislators that compromise would mean election defeat.
In the past, to govern, elected leaders stood on principle while respecting their opponents enough to make concessions and pass legislation through engagement, compromise and consensus.
The late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., was an unabashed, unapologetic liberal. But, he was also a pragmatist, always seeking to find common goals and values. He was a key player in helping President George W. Bush pass his "No Child Left Behind" education plan called. In 2004, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., praised Kennedy for being "willing to negotiate. But he doesn't compromise his principles." Nancy Reagan once said, "Ronnie and Ted could always find common ground, and they had great respect for one another."
Currently, Congress only seems to be functioning through threats of "going nuclear," shutting down the government, or defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States.
Instead of brinksmanship, America wants more legislators who are willing to produce benefits and protect the rights of all citizens, rather than cling to the false politics of purity. A new Washington Post-ABC News polls shows that almost seven in 10 people believe that cooperation should trump strict adherence to principles, including 58 percent of self-identified conservatives.
If your personal objective is to be loved by the masses and to promote your own brand, your own ideals, and your own set of principles, why bother to ask the people to elect you to a legislative body in the first place? Why not simply become a television pundit, a radio show host, an author, or why not go build a vast social media network which influences massive numbers of people? Governing successfully is hard, and only those willing to work, need apply.