Bounty (And Headline) Hunting

I’m sure Members of Congress are scratching their heads about why their approval ratings in opinion polls are flirting with the single digits.  “We are public servants who work hard,” they no doubt rationalize.  “Why can’t the American people see that and appreciate what we do for them?”

Here’s a partial answer to that question. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat and the assistant majority leader in the Senate, has announced he’s going to hold hearings on the “bounty” issue in the NFL in order to decide whether bribery laws should be expanded to include professional sports bounties.  For those of you whose attention was distracted from that topic of crucial national importance by minor issues like skyrocketing gas prices, crushing federal debt, and the continued crappy economy, the NFL recently disciplined members of the New Orleans Saints for running a “bounty” pool in which players were paid if they put a hit on key players for the opposing team and knocked them out of the game.

Such bounties are cheap and dirty stuff, of course, and aren’t consistent with time-honored concepts of sportsmanship, but it’s silly to think they should command even one instant of Congress’ time.  This isn’t a federal issue, it’s an effort by another of our political leaders to grab some headlines and on-camera time with grandstanding about an issue that isn’t of any material significance.  No doubt some staffer in Senator Durbin’s office, whose salary is paid by tax dollars, decided that hearings about NFL bounties would be a way to get the Senator some face time with big stars and boost his recognition ratings — and I’m sure other Senators will be perfectly happy to join in.

As a country, we’ve got a lot of problems that our politicians should be addressing.  Sports bounties aren’t one of them.  Instead, they’re just a distraction that politicians invent to keep people from focusing on the fact that they aren’t doing their jobs.  The problem for Congress is that people aren’t distracted — they’re paying attention, and they are sick and tired of these stupid political games that continue to be played while the frightening, fundamental problems go unaddressed.

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How Will History Judge?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now describing the current Congress as the “most productive Congress in the history of the country.” He numbers among its accomplishments the “stimulus” legislation, the “health care reform” legislation, repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, new financial regulations, and the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

When you are in the moment, it is difficult to assess what the ultimate judgment of history will be.  I doubt that many Americans would put the current Congress up among the great Congresses of the past, however.  After all, voters just gave the boot to many of the Representatives and Senators who passed the legislation Reid touts, and Congress’ approval rating is a dismal 13 percent — its lowest level in decades.  And those people who are critical of Congress no doubt will point to the things that Congress didn’t do, like passing appropriations bills or making meaningful cuts to the federal budget.

History will make its judgment, as history always does.  In the meantime, there is something unseemly and profoundly unattractive about Senator Reid’s excessive pride.  His hubris exemplifies a significant problem with the current uninspiring crop of legislators:  they are oblivious to how they are being perceived outside the Beltway.