By Aarushi Gupta
It seems there is a daily quota for American politicians who willingly say the most ridiculous statements to the public. From addressing the moral and social ‘grounds’ for rape, to reporting the plight of the economy, to discrediting legitimate scientific research, the representative legislature does not seem to know anything about, well, anything. Their determination to spew word vomit to the American public has resulted in some truly horrific quotes, only to be found in an SNL skit a few days later. When did this become the sorry norm for the leaders of our country? I’d like to think that the modern phase of politicians being idiots began with President George W. Bush; a case could be made for including Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush, but as far as actual ignorance, Bush Jr. takes the trophy. On several occasions, he “misunderestimated” the perils of the presidency; one of many “Bushisms” he spouted while on the hunt for alleged weapons of mass destruction, he said, “We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories […] And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.” While Clinton and Bush Sr. have memorable political blunders that severely undermined their careers and their authority in leadership positions, they have rarely had blunders that stemmed from misinformation, ignorance, or ineptitude. That is not to say that they have had perfect careers; the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Bush Sr.’s pledge to keep taxes low (and his failure to adhere to this promise) defined their presidencies. However, their political gaffes cannot be equated to some of the profoundly distressing sound bites circulating the press today.
During the tenure of the Obama administration, congressional representatives have taken over the responsibility of providing Jon Stewart with content for the Daily Show. From Todd Akin’s shocking statements on “legitimate rape” and John Foster’s allegations that abortion is not to be used even in the context “of that rape thing”, it seems women’s rights are at the forefront of the predominately white, male Congress. In discrediting this traumatic experience that happens to one in five women in America, the congressional body seems to think that they can make reproductive rights a thing of the past. Unfortunately, even this would be untrue, since women’s reproductive rights never really existed in the past either. Caring for women as equals seems to be a problem in the modern era; equal pay for equal work was a serious focal point in the recent midterm election, which shocked me. When a candidate has to say to their voters or party that he or she supports equal wages across the sexes, we should wonder when that wasn’t the case. Almost a century has passed since women have had the right to vote in America, which is often chalked up to the result of the female movement towards equality. But it is becoming increasingly apparent in the present that this is not true; we have maintained a façade of equality, not truly giving women and minorities their due where it matters most. In an age where an extremely partisan Congress has literally made blocking legislation from the President its only goal, voting holds almost no weight in the day-to-day impact of American lives, at least on the national scale. Legislation like Equal Work for Equal Pay and the Women’s Health Protection Act6 should not be lost battles in Congress – they should be so fundamental to society that they don’t even need to undergo the political process. Condoms didn’t need legislative approval, and neither should birth control.
In the light of Louisiana’s special senate runoff between incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu and her Republican opponent Bill Cassidy, the debate over the establishment of the highly contested Keystone XL pipeline was a priority in the Congress last month. The refineries that stand to benefit the most from the Keystone XL pipeline are the leading export refineries in the US – most of which are present in Louisiana. Due to the potential involvement of Louisiana’s refineries5 in the pipeline, the Democratic Party swung the vote towards Landrieu in an effort to boost her polling numbers. However, there was no agreement among the legislators regarding the permanent job creation, environmental impact, and the independence from foreign oil of the pipeline. In effect, congressmen and women were able to say whatever they wanted to their peers in an effort to coax the referendum – which failed to pass by just one vote, effectively killing off Landrieu’s career.
Surprisingly, the rest of the recent midterm election did not result in the campaign hilarity that usually ensues. The Republican Party executed a well-thought-out strategy to take control of the Senate and increase their majority in the House. Now Republicans are in full control over the legislative branch, opposing the Democratic administration. Even though the campaign proceeded without a hitch, the party has no intention of continuing its lack of productivity while in full party capacity. Already, the new Congress has said that redrafting the Keystone XL pipeline bill and counteracting new regulations on climate change and the EPA are its first orders of business. In making it their goal to halt all progress made during the course of the Obama Administration, the Republican leadership should seriously consider re-evaluating its priorities. It would be more conducive to progress in America if the two parties seriously considered bipartisan efforts; not to continue touting false claims to their districts, but to actually accomplish something as part of the legislative body. We are currently governed by the least productive Congress in the history of these United States; let’s hope that record stays that way come January, when the new Congress is sworn in.
Unsurprisingly, American politicians definitely have the most popularized and publicized blunders, which definitely affects international perception of the United States. Politicians are a reflection of their electorate, and even though Americans are not doing so well on both fronts, we should be electing legislators who would at least try to show the world that people from the US can do more than eat cheeseburgers and be disruptive.
Image by Gage Skidmore