Politics, a dirty word

| | in Foreign
Politics, a dirty word

As a class, politicians may not be such a despised lot in the United States, but a substantial majority of Americans would not like their children to join politics. A recent Gallup poll found that politics is a no-no for 64 per cent Americans, who were asked if they would like their children to pursue a political career. It turns out that the American public opinion on this score has not changed much over the past couple of decades. Back in 1993, too, 61 per cent of American parents held the same view on politics as a profession for their children.

Clearly, a key driving factor appears to be the low level of confidence in political institutions, notably the US Congress. Over the years, this celebrated pillar of American democracy has earned the epithet of “Do Nothing Congress” — a term coined by President Harry Truman back in the 1940s, when he was frustrated with the manner in which the then Republican-dominated body put paid to some of his key legislative initiatives. The label has stuck, and is bandied about every now and then in the face of political gridlock, like the one faced currently by President Barack Obama’s landmark immigration reform plan. The Democrat-controlled Senate has passed the measure, but the Republican-controlled House has other ideas on the subject. Speaker John Boehner has let it be known that the House would have nothing to do with the comprehensive reform bill cleared by the Senate. Instead, it will come up with its own variants. The whole exercise could take months and some Congressional watchers even speculate that an immigration deal may not see the light of the day at least this year.

Approval ratings for US Congress always make dismal reading. A CNN national poll conducted last month came up with a singularly unflattering report card, with as many as 83 per cent of Americans disapproving of the way the Congress is handling its job. Its approval ratings in other CNN polls over the last two years have hovered between 11 per cent and 17 per cent. “Do Nothing Congress somehow manages to do even less,” headlined a critique in Atlantic Wire, which pointed out that the 112th Congress that concluded in early January this year passed only 220 laws in its two-year tenure, said to be the lowest number for any Congress. And the present 113th Congress has already set tongues wagging, having passed just 15 Bills in the first six months. Apart from the big question mark on the fate of immigration reform, there has been little progress at the end of the day on issues such as gun control, debt ceiling and climate change.

As veteran CBS anchor Bob Schieffer wrote in a stinging commentary, “Washington has changed since I came here 44 years ago. There are some exceptions, but many House Members, especially, have come to live in a world unknown and disconnected to the rest of us. They work three days a week, they take long and frequent vacations, and busy themselves with things that have no connection to the rest of us — fund raising to ensure re-election, traveling, issuing press releases, and more fund raising. But nothing that affects the rest of us ever seems to get done. It’s obvious they want to be something — a member of Congress! But when I came to Washington, most Members wanted to do something.”

To get back to the Gallup survey, the aversion for a political career is stronger among the majority white community. A mere 25-26 per cent of the whites would like to see their children join politics, as opposed to 42-45 per cent among the non-whites. “This is not a reaction to the fact that the current president is black, as Gallup has found that same racial difference when the question was asked in the 1990s when George HW Bush and Bill Clinton were president,” it says.

“Compared with other possible careers, politics ranks fairly low in Americans’ pecking order. Another historical Gallup question has consistently found Americans mentioning a career in medicine or technology as the one they would advise a young man or woman to pursue. A career in politics or government has historically ranked well behind those professions as well as law, business, teaching, and engineering,” notes the survey.

Open for business

New York’s Statue of Liberty is back in business after a layover of sorts for nearly 20 months. The iconic landmark that has beckoned immigrants and tourists from far and wide for more than a century has just reopened. After a year-long renovation costing over $27 million, the statue located on Liberty Island in the middle of New York Harbour was reopened, but that was for just one day. The monument had to close immediately thereafter because of the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Sandy across New York and New Jersey. The statue withstood Sandy’s 14-foot storm surge but its surroundings suffered greatly with 75 per cent of Liberty Island under 5 feet of water. The damage was more severe in the adjoining Ellis Island, which is still out of bounds for tourists.  With all the renovation completed on Liberty Island itself, the authorities chose the American Independence Day of July 4, to reopen the statue. A beacon of hope for waves of immigrants at the turn of last century, the Statue of Liberty is ready once again to receive the hordes of tourists.

Holding aloft the torch of freedom, Lady Liberty is a gift to the United States from the people of France to commemorate 100 years of Franco-American friendship as well as the centennial of America's independence.  The poetic verse inscribed on the statue’s base welcomes the “poor huddled masses” to the “land of opportunity”. “Thank God, we have people like the French,” remarked New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. According to him, the works undertaken at the complex have made Liberty Island safer not only to face hurricane-force storms — and more secure from potential terrorist attacks.

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