Franke: Our ‘Leaders’ — Chosen but not Liked

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Mark Franke

“The government you elect is the government you deserve.” Thomas Jefferson

Find someone who will speak positively about our government these days and you will have outdone the cynic Diogenes. He merely wanted to find a wise man; we are looking for a happy and contented one.

Fortunately we can let the Gallup Poll do our work for us. That organization conducts an annual survey of a representative group of Americans to ask their level of confidence in the major institutions of our society. Confidence dropped again in 2023 in nearly all 16 institutions included. We are an unhappy people.

There were a few categories that saw slight increases, one or two percentage points. For example churches improved but only one percent. I guess we should be thankful for little things.

So long as we are celebrating one percent improvements, give Congress a round of applause. It improved from seven to eight percent approval. Yes, you read that right. Congress ranks last in public confidence. Ninety-two percent of Americans have little or no confidence in Congress as an institution and can you blame them?

Just look at what that august body did in the past few weeks. First there is Matt Gaetz and his scorched earth politics. Angry with Kevin McCarthy for not being conservative enough, Gaetz teamed up with the Squad and other lefties in the Democrat party—in this case being every single one of them—to send McCarthy to the back benches. Congratulations, Matt; you proved something although I for one can’t fathom what.

Of course our national press (which has a confidence factor only in the mid-teens) bewailed the lack of moderate Republicans in the House but never got around to asking where the moderate Democrats were on this vote. They could have saved McCarthy if they wanted to and apparently Nancy Pelosi had promised something of that sort. Maybe her lack of follow through on that commitment led to the eviction from her private digs at the Capitol building.

But then what Pelosi did or did not promise doesn’t matter to us because our attention is on the honorable Jamaal Bowman, who apparently thinks he is back in junior high school where pranks like pulling fire alarms are thought to be cool. Somebody needs to send Jamaal to the principal’s office.

Maybe it’s time for the principal to call a school assembly and remind this pack of juveniles that they do have Constitutional responsibility to pass a new budget before the old one expires. The current budget law has been in effect for nearly 50 years but Congress has met its own deadline only five times, the last being 1997.

As a libertarian at heart, I like congressional gridlock since it prevents passage of expensive, onerous, anti-liberty laws. The budget is another thing entirely. Playing political Russian roulette every September is no way to run a railroad. Or maybe the analogy is appropriate since most railroads went bankrupt.

I am politically naive but I just don’t understand how Matt Gaetz and his fellow travelers believe they can win a one minute before midnight battle over the budget. Please remind me of a government shutdown that wasn’t blamed on the Republicans by the media. The Republicans can pass whatever they want in the House of Representatives but then their noble efforts will come to naught in the Democrat Senate and the Democrat White House. And the public will blame the Republicans because the media will tell it to.

No wonder Congress ranks last in the public confidence sweepstakes. But they have a lot of company in the underwater category. Only two institutions, small business and the military, scored above 50 percent. This ought to frighten all of us.

How long can a civilization survive if its citizenry has no confidence in its major institutions? If it falls, how will that come about and will we see the warning signs? Is our collective attitude a contributing factor, even an irreversible one? Have we met the enemy and he is us?

I think the comic strip Pogo was on to something back in 1970 when his creator Walt Kelly used that line to support Earth Day and its concerns about pollution. Not to belittle the dangers of excessive pollution but spiritual pollution is much more dangerous to future generations. We can attempt to return earth to a Garden of Eden but will we find ourselves as unhappy with the situation as did our original parents?

This may be asking too much but can we accept our own responsibility for our role in selecting our leaders and not hold them to high standards?

Maybe H. L. Mencken figured this out.

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.