But rather than getting cynical about the theatrical component of politics, let’s look to the source of it. As that great and humble populist Pogo famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We, the people, simultaneously revile and revere our officials. According to Gallup Politics, Congress has a popular approval rating of … 13%, the lowest ever recorded in an election year. And yet… we voters will re-elect almost all Congressional incumbents … just as we ought to do. What’s up with that?
This columnist spends a considerable time on Capitol Hill meeting with legislative staff from both sides of the aisle. Reporting back from the front, the House is Occupied by generally delightful, smart, publicly spirited people who are underpaid relative to the level of responsibility they shoulder. And they — officials and staff both — uniformly are deeply eager to please their bosses … the voters.
And their bosses, the voters, see these pleasant, if plain, folks as some kind of superheroes who must demonstrate to the voters that they are … faster than a speeding bullet, able to bend steel in their bare hands, more powerful than a locomotive, capable of changing the course of mighty rivers, and leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Look. Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … Congressman!
The Sage of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, at base a great populist humanitarian, summed up the fundamental predicament in his Last Words (written in 1926, considerably before his actual last words):