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The real problem in Congress is that voters don’t pay enough attention to the politicos behind the curtain

By Megan Carpentier
Wednesday, April 18, 2012 16:44 EDT
["Happy Businessman Laughing Over American Flag" on Shutterstock]

In a New York Magazine interview with Jason Zengerle, retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) said that the major structural reform that’s necessary to effect change in the political cycle is, “To get rid of the filibuster in the Senate.”

I’d argue that the major necessary structural change isn’t the filibuster — partly because a series of failed cloture votes doesn’t equal a “filibuster”: what Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) did for eight solid hours in December 2010 is a filibuster. If the Majority Leader held the wanna-filibusterees to their bluster, we’d have about two before the nonsense ended, which might delay 4 Post Office naming bills. Instead, the power of incumbency (and, relatedly, the lack of voter participation and efforts by state-level Republicans to put more strictures on it) means that, even in the People’s House, elected officials don’t necessarily feel that beholden to the people they are sent their to represent. And when legislators think they can act — or in the case of the current political climate, not-act — without electoral consequences, there’s few incentives for them to reflect the will of their constitutents.

An example: pundits have held that 2010′s Republican takeover in Congress was a sea change. Yet, 85 percent of Congress was reelected. Granted, the last time the reelection rate for incumbents was so low was 1970, and that the lowest it was in the decade prior was 94 percent, but that’s hardly a sea change. Even the Senate, which has the reputation of being slow to change, has had a turnover rate of an average of about 85 percent for the last decade. (And, if one goes district-by-district, the rates at which citizens reelect individual legislators range from a comfortable 55 percent to a Soviet-like 98 percent in any given year.)

If in a bad year, the statistical likelihood of being reelected is 85 percent — and it’s normally much higher — what’s the incentive to rock the boat? If leadership thinks that fighting makes for better optics than compromising, who’s going to buck leadership even if all that infighting and lack of accomplishment means their constituents give Congress approval ratings as low as 12 percent?

Congress members know that, barring the loss of Congressional seats (as happened, for instance, in Ohio and New York after the 2010 Census) or another attempt at interference like Rep. Tom DeLay’s (R-TX), gerrymandering by state legislators is more likely to protect most incumbents than create competitive or cohesive districts. (And, if there’s non-partisan redistricting at hand, at least some of them will try to game that system, too.) And with voter participation rates in non-leap years steady at only around 40 percent on average, and only up to 60 percent during hotly contested Presidential races — which is not to speak of states, like Virginia, which elect state legislators in odd-number years when voter participation is even lower — even if 78 percent of the country thinks Congress sucks, only some percentage of those voters will bother to show up in November. Heck, with approval ratings that low, it’s possible that the most frustrated people won’t show up at all to vote against them.

The Occupy Movement has made it clear that there’s a lot of room to advocate for social change and social justice from outside the political system, and get people excited and active in opposing the policies that they don’t like or a government that doesn’t seem to represent their interests. But without a commitment to showing up and voting (and helping others register and vote), or even participating in the political process that ends on Election Day, protestors can be as loud as they want, and those in the corridors of power will simply shut the doors and go back to listening to themselves on CSPAN.

["Happy Businessman Laughing Over American Flag" on Shutterstock]

I had a transvaginal ultrasound: My perspective on the mandate that touched off 2012′s War On Women

By Megan Carpentier
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 15:37 EDT

Though Texas, Oklahoma and North Carolina all managed to get away with passing transvaginal ultrasound mandates for women seeking abortions with little national attention, it took my former home state of Virginia’s effort to do the same to bring people’s undivided attention to the anti-abortion movement’s long fight to make abortion as humiliating, expensive, difficult and unobtainable as constitutionally permissible. And not only did all that attention kill the Virginia bill (and a similar one…


Katie Roiphe’s trollgaze fantasy: Women like to be spanked and feminism is all wrong

By Megan Carpentier
Monday, April 16, 2012 11:28 EDT

Between the fetish-style cover, the title “The Fantasy Life Of Working Women” (apparently, we all get to share a singular fantasy life, and we can leave the reader to speculate as to what kind of “working girl” the cover actually evokes) and the Katie Roiphe byline on the piece, Newsweek…


In defense of cute kitten videos

By Megan Carpentier
Friday, April 13, 2012 12:44 EDT

Long-time readers may have noticed — and been annoyed by — the regular appearance of a cute animal video in the “Whoa!” section of our site. If you haven’t, I recommend checking out today’s video of a kitten pile, last week’s video of a golden retriever puppy, this video of…


Two Hillaries, one error: The reason snarking on stay-at-home moms is bad for Democrats

By Megan Carpentier
Thursday, April 12, 2012 13:58 EDT

Democratic strategist and DNC consultant (and one of the minds behind the DMCA and Napster and Grokster lawsuits during her time as the head of the Recording Industry Association of America) Hilary Rosen had some harsh words for former Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R-MA) wife Ann on “Anderson Cooper 360″ last…


Raise your hand if you don’t give a f**k about the re-release of ‘Titanic’ in 3D

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I don’t need to see dead-circa-1912-babies floating in the icy Atlantic IN 3D. And maybe I’m just cynical when I say that the only reason people would ever see Titanic IN 3D is because they want to see this:…


Helpful tips for homophobic bigots, sodomy edition

By Megan Carpentier
Wednesday, April 11, 2012 10:42 EDT

Two men in Maine who oppose same sex marriage recently decided that the real problem with getting their fellow straight Americans to oppose marriage equality is that “same sex marriage” and “gay marriage” sound too cute and cuddly. And so they launched a Super PAC and asked their supporters to…


The marriage trap: ‘Small government’ conservatives would like to make all heteros marry

By Megan Carpentier
Monday, April 9, 2012 12:37 EDT

Among the myriad reasons that LGBT Americans want the right to marry — which includes an end to their second-class status in society and, as Jessica Arnold told me, “People not recognizing that I’m a human being and that I know what it is to love and what I want…


If you ask ‘Why don’t women and minorities read about politics?’, you’re asking the wrong question

By Megan Carpentier
Friday, April 6, 2012 15:53 EDT

The following is an argument for diversity in media. If you think diversity is some sort of bullshit, PC-buzzword-y affirmative-action-in-disguise way to keep the white man down, stop reading here and skip to the comments and complain about how difficult your life is and how the feminazis have ruined society…


The War On Women is just a siege you just didn’t notice until now

By Megan Carpentier
Thursday, April 5, 2012 17:44 EDT

Parental notification. Waiting periods. Mandatory ultrasounds. Zoning laws specifying closet size. Databases listing identifying data about women who seek abortions. The slow erosion of a woman’s right to choose and gain access to her choice has been going on for years, just under the radar of the mainstream media, because…