Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) speaks to the media after attending the weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on July 16. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
This week's congressional dysfunctional is brought to you by the letter "P." Forget Democrats and Republicans: The party of the moment is pity.
Yes, yes, Congress is polarized, Republicans aren't a governing party anymore, Democrats lack spines, everyone is beholden to corporate interests, and the open source world is changing how politicians interact with their constituents.
None of that has anything to do with the theatrics over the filibuster.
Every so often, Congress, frustrated and angry that the public bears them so much ill-will, decides to remind us that their inability to get stuff done is our fault.
We're the ones who elected them. We're the ones who keep voting for them. We're the ones who demand that they sacrifice principles for expediency. Allegedly. But we don't really pay attention to Congress, because they don't do much, and when they do, it's often comical.
So they get angry. They create a crisis. They give long, florid floor speeches about the crisis. They appear on television and bemoan. And bemoan and bemoan and bemoan what happened to this great institution, (if in the Senate: This saucer, this leavening chamber), this beacon of democratic representation in the world.
Right now, we're in the pity stage. You know it because the political tabloids are publishing stories about how relationships between parties are at their lowest point since the last time these tabloids wrote the stories. Or that the majority leader and the minority leader can't take each other's phone calls.
Pity clears the room. Pity is such a turn-off because it absolves the bearer of any responsibility to solve his or her own problem.
Truth be told, the Senate can solve its problems. Its members just choose not to. But instead of admitting that manufactured crises are the catalyst for getting anything done, we are instead treated to spectacles that Congress can watch on TV and feel important again.
They negotiate publicly and privately, then create a solution.
Often, the solution sets up further crises, which will allow Congress to once again come back and get everyone's attention, as they go through the performance and sweep in at the last moment and provide another solution, proving once and for all that Congress actually does work. Then they congratulate themselves on a job well done. Take that, American people.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How U.S. special forces are preparing for the worst-case scenario in North Korea
- I hate Ayn Rand — but here's why my fellow conservatives love her
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- The 11 worst fast food restaurants in America
- The weird obsession that's ruining the GOP
- Deficit scolds are the most crazed ideologues in America
- A scientific fact-check of 2001: A Space Odyssey
- 7 language habits that reveal your age
- The biggest lesson Obama failed to learn from Bush
- The disturbing lessons of Arizona's un-American execution
Subscribe to the Week