Confidence in Congress has hit an all-time low. A mere 14 percent of Americans tell Gallup pollsters that they have a great deal or quite a lot of faith in the US House and Senate.
Since Gallup began using the current measure of confidence in Congress in 1973, the worst rating had been the 18 percent figure accorded it in the early years of the 1990s, when the House was being rocked by scandals that would eventually see a number of top Democratic lawmakers rejected in their own party primaries and the “Republican revolution” vote of 1994.
To give a sense of just how bad things are for Congress, consider this notion: Americans express more confidence in corporate HMOs–the most despised manifestation of a health-care industry that lends itself to all of the scorn heaped upon it by Michael Moore’s new film Sicko — than in their elected representatives at the federal level.
It is true that confidence in Congress had been sinking in recent years, in large part because of frustration by the American people with the acquiescence by the formerly Republican-controlled House and Senate to the neo-conservative foreign policies of the Bush administration and to the Wall Street-driven domestic policies.
But the shift in control of both chambers after last November elections was supposed to change that.
No one expected Democrats to fix everything that was wrong with the United States, let alone the world.
But there was an expectation of progress–especially on the central issue of the moment: ending the war in Iraq.
That expectation, a basic and legitimate one in a functioning democracy, has not been met. And it has created a sense of frustration, and in many cases anger, on the part of Americans who really did want the Democrats to succeed–not in gaining partisan advantage but in the far more essential work of checking and balancing the Bush administration. Some leading voices of opposition, including anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, have simply given up on the Democratic Party. And no one should underestimate that, even if Sheehan says she no longer wants to be the face of the anti-war movement, Sheehan’s denunciation of the Democrats for failing to seriously challenge Bush’s management of the war is an honest and clear expression of the sense of betrayal that a great many Americans who voted Democratic in 2006 are now feeling.
That’s the bad news for Democrats.
The good news is that they still have time to change course.