In case you're not up on the number, Real Clear Politics has it's standard good chart showing that, based on the most recent polls, as of this morning the average approval rating for Congress is 13.2 percent and the average disapproval rating is 82.4 percent. That 69.2 gap is not even the most most recent worst, but you can't make it taste like lemonade no matter how you look at those lemons.
In a column last week, Fareed Zakaria asked, "Does America Need a Prime Minister?" It is a question that often comes up when political gridlock makes it appear that we cannot respond to a crisis. My answer is no. Answer yes if you would have rather had the country governed with the Speaker of the House as the chief executive rather than the President over all of the last two decades. Prime Minister Gingrich. Prime Minister Pelosi. Answer yes if you would like to have more and possibly more influential Tea Party movements legitimized as parties of their own, or if you would like Bernie Sanders (Socialist-VT) to have more company serving in elected office on Capitol Hill.
The results yesterday bring a big change, but not the change observers think when it comes to the defense budget.
For the defense committees, ideology will rear a powerful head, and the rhetorical and political battles over DADT, Afghanistan, the New START treaty, missile defense, China, Iran, and the Middle East will all provide powerful headlines and verbal fisticuffs.
But when it comes to budgets, the departure of Ike Skelton and the arrival of the Republicans at the helm of authorizing and appropriating committees simply mean "business as usual."
The new leadership in defense supports high defense budgets; the old one did, too. They will lobby for earmarks for their pet rocks and their districts; the old ones did, too. Tea Party preferences on earmarks won't be likely to stop the old guard.
But there is a difference. It is outside the defense world and the defense committees, but very rooted in the policy preferences of the new conservatives. They want smaller government, and they want it now. They want lower taxes, and they want them now. They want a balanced budget, now.
Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig visited Dartmouth yesterday to deliver a public lecture with the same title as this post. His topic was the nearly intractable issue of the role of money and lobbying on policy. He has written extensively about the issue and has a nascent movement to show for it. See "Fix Congress First," where he advocates for, among other things, the Fair Elections Now Act.
I had the chance to talk with him over lunch. In the course of that discussion, there seemed to be four approaches, not mutually exclusive, that emerge in trying to reduce the corrupting influence of money on politics: