Congress: The Joke's On Us

tags: U.S. Congress, government shutdown



Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.

In 1942, the popular detective fiction writer Rex Stout published a book about Congress featuring "the silliest, stupidest and most dangerous statements that have ever been made by men laying claim to being leaders of the American people." The book's title told the whole story: "The Illustrious Dunderheads."

I've been thinking about Stout during the government shutdown, which has triggered a fresh round of ridiculing Congress. But the joke is on us, as comedian Jimmy Kimmel recently noted. "Congress is still getting paid," Kimmel jibed. "I want the names of the idiots who elected these people.... Oh, wait. It was us? Never mind."

For the last two centuries, we have asked members of Congress to advance our personal interests and do the best thing for the nation. When that doesn't work out, we mock and malign them. It's a whole lot easier than looking in the mirror.

It's much more fun too. Visiting in the 1830s, the French nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville was amazed to find Congress full of uncouth, poorly educated people. But that's democracy for you. It shouldn't be a surprise that our representatives are representative of those who elect them....



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