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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
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Down to Blood Relatives and Paid Staff


When the voters' job rating of Congress fell in one national poll this year to just 9 percent positive, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain explained that "9 percent" meant he and his congressional colleagues were "down to blood relatives and paid staffers."

After House Republicans refused, for the better part of a week, to accept a compromise agreed to by Senate Democrats and Republicans, as well as President Obama, to extend the payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans, Congress looked even more dysfunctional. For their obstructiveness, House Republicans were publicly scolded by Karl Rove and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which thundered: "Given how he (Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell) and House Speaker John Boehner have handled the payroll tax debate, we wonder if they might end up re-electing the president before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest."

The late Rep. Morris K. "Mo" Udall, an Arizona Democrat of unsurpassed wit and decency, once described his own political party's constant intramural feuding, "When Democrats organize a firing squad, they begin by forming a circle." That's exactly how Republicans spent the week before Christmas 2011.

This continuing loss of confidence in our governmental and political institutions saps the already depleted national confidence and sours even more the nation's foul mood. In the December Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, voters were asked, "How would you rate the overall performance and accomplishments of this year's Congress — one of the best, above average, average, below average or one of the worst?"

In the 21 years that question has been asked, this current session recorded the largest percentage (42 percent) ever branding a Congress "one of the worst." Before the political earthquake of 2010, which elected a GOP House majority, fewer than one out of three had called that Democratic Congress "one of the worst." To be fair, a smashing 1 percent of respondents judged the current Congress "one of the best."

Not surprisingly, seven out of 10 voters disapproved in that same December poll "of the job Republicans in Congress are doing," while just over one-quarter approved.

The numbers for congressional Democrats were not quite as bad: 31 percent approval and 62 percent disapproval. Negative feelings (42 percent) toward the Democratic Party were stronger than positive feelings (32 percent), but they were still better than public feelings toward the Republican Party, which were 48 percent negative and 27 percent positive.

What this means for 2012 could be found in the August analysis of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who told NBC's Chuck Todd that the time was arriving "to compare this president to the alternative" because "we've been comparing this president to the Almighty for long enough." The recent — admittedly slight — uptick in Obama's admittedly low job rating in the most recent CNN national survey could well be a direct reaction to his looking, by comparison, better as Congress looks worse and worse.

Respected Democrat pollster Peter Hart, who with his Republican colleague Bill McInturff conducts the Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, believes that the dysfunctional and hyper-partisan atmosphere prevailing in Washington, because it reminds people of the acrimony and scorched-earth politics of the Speaker Gingrich era, could be contributing to presidential candidate Gingrich's decline in recent surveys. That could well happen when Congress' support is "down to blood relatives and paid staffers."

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




4 Comments | Post Comment
Nice rhetoric, Mark. But I am kind of disappointed.

Nobody has offered a coherent explanation of how the Senate came up with their ridiculous two-month formula for tax relief, instead of something that passed the straight-face test. Maybe it was a plot to embarrass House Republicans, who were stupid enough to oblige?

I don't see how honest Democrats could have agreed to something as ephemeral as that, unless something was being held over their heads. If that was not the cased, what in the world were they thinking? That's were analysis like yours should come in. What happened here?
Comment: #1
Posted by: Masako
Fri Dec 23, 2011 9:02 PM
Okay, no explanation needed. Here's how it went:

Senate Dems pushed for a much longer extension, only to be "forced" by Republicans, mindful of the Christmas season, to agree to the short term that became the compromise.

Enter the House Repes, who have a death wish. They try to torpedo that compromise, not caring to take into account life beyond the end of their self-destructive noses, let alone the calculations of their own brethren in the chamber next door.

What is it with this guy Boehner? How in the world did such a sad clown ever get to be considered a "leader"?

And what is a true conservative, one who believes in evolution, science in general, preserving what's left of our plundered planet (conserve, conservative, get it?) and the value of data as something you act on as opposed to something you manufacture to suit your needs, to do?
Comment: #2
Posted by: Masako
Sun Dec 25, 2011 7:25 PM
Face it, the only real explanation I need is tor the 9% who think this crew deserves a positive rating. An economic engine being short-ordered to two month extensions of public policy denotes a marionette political class that knows its policies are bankrupt. Liberals love this sort of chaos because it reeks like the public squares left squalid by the "occupy somewhere" crowd. Conservative disappointment is real, Congress holds the purse strings and absolutely refuses to close the purse. Obama borrows TRILLIONS more, Boehner says, "Sure, go ahead, what does it matter?', and Bill Maher wonders why we should pay our bills... oh, that explains the 9%, it's the portion of brain that Maher and disciples are operating on. They probably borrowed that wattage from China.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Tom
Wed Dec 28, 2011 10:06 AM
So Tom, cool. Which conservatives are you referring to, the real ones of those who hide under that mantle? Fine, take down Maher, he deserves every bit of it, but how about Boehner and the other phonies parading as folks who have solutions? And how do we get a coalition of folks who offer something resembling a solution?
Comment: #4
Posted by: Masako
Wed Dec 28, 2011 8:10 PM
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