With some pomp, a bunch of cute kids, and plenty of entertainment from Vice President Joe Biden, the new Congress was gaveled into session on Thursday. "Welcome 113th Congress!" says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post, summing up the conventional wisdom: "Here's the first thing you need to know: People hate you." Or rather, people really hated the 112th Congress — The Week rounded up 10 of the best insults heaped upon the historically unproductive 112th, and Gallup records it as the most unpopular in modern history — and "there's every reason to believe things in Congress will get worse in the next few months." Public Policy Polling has this bracing reminder, from its new (ongoing) survey:
But America is not, by nature, a pessimistic nation. We fervently believe in new beginnings. And the incoming freshman lawmakers — 82 new members of the House (47 Democrats, 35 Republicans) and 13 new senators (eight Democrats, four Republicans) — are upbeat about the 113th Congress' ability to work together to solve America's problems. Here, five reasons for optimism about the near-term future on Capitol Hill:
1. The Tea Party era is at an end
There's "rational reason for optimism" that "the ideological excesses and obstructionism of the Tea Party class of 2010 are over," says John Avlon at The Daily Beast. The Do-Nothing 112th "was elected by a narrow but intense slice of the electorate — the anti-Obama, recession-fueled rage of the 2010 midterm election landslide," but this Congress was ushered in with a message from voters to "stop fighting and start fixing." And by all appearances, they got the message. That doesn't erase the stark ideological differences in Washington, but the tone and approach of the Class of 2012 "is likely to be very different from the radioactive 'us-against-them' rhetoric we heard from departing Tea Party stars like Allen West."
2. Unprecedented diversity makes for less rigidity
"If there is reason for optimism that this Congress might be able to get beyond a 12 percent approval rating and record lows of bills passed, it might rest in the fact that the incoming class is more diverse than any other in history," says Allen McDuffee at The Washington Post. Any way you slice it — religion, gender, sexual orientation, age — "the 113th Congress will be the closest to resembling American diversity thus far." This remarkable shift in demographics, says The Daily Beast's Avlon, "is a good thing in terms of bridging all our interesting differences to find a way to work together based on our shared civic faith as Americans first."
3. The Gingrich crash suggests a coming détente
Perhaps the best reason for "cautious optimism" about the 113th Congress is a look back at the 104th Congress, says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post. Like the just-finished Congress, the 104th (1995-1997) featured "dozens of self-styled revolutionary Republicans, bent on bulldozing a Democratic President of the United States for whom they had little if any respect." Led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, they shut down the government — and suffered "a total defeat" to Bill Clinton. The 105th Congress? "The revolutionaries were mostly quieter and almost tamed." Here's hoping that the diminished House GOP "rejectionist caucus" similarly starts to see "that losing symbolic votes, or winning them in the House only to see bills die in the Senate, is pretty much a waste of time," and the lower chamber's larger number of "mainstream conservatives finally decide that the cost of making the House — and the GOP as a whole — an object of ridicule is higher than the cost of risking a RINO label."
"It has been two centuries since the United States had a Congress enumerated with lucky 13," says Michael Koenigs at ABC News. That would be the 13th Congress, which served 1813 to 1815, during the James Madison administration. That Congress was mostly notable for ratifying the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, but the number 13 is considered charmed in the sports world and in Italy (even if Friday the 13th is considered unlucky by most Americans). As the 113th Congress kicks into gear, says Koenigs, let's "ask ourselves something Clint Eastwood said before he started talking to chairs, 'Do I feel lucky?'"
5. It would be hard to be worse than the 112th
This is the safest reason to expect better things from the 113th Congress: "With only about 10 percent of Americans approving of their lawmakers, there's not much room left to go down," says Taegan Goddard at The Week. The fiscal-cliff battle may have sent the 112th out on an especially low note, says Walter Shapiro at Yahoo News, but actually, Congress' top two Republicans — House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — "deserve credit for the last-minute fortitude they displayed in ending the dispiriting deadlock over extending the Bush tax cuts." Their courage wasn't on par with Lincoln saving the Union, but Boehner and McConnell put "legislating over posturing" and they "deserve muted, but sincere, applause" for giving us hope for more rational days ahead.