Hey! Check out this super funny video starring Chris Pine and Alan Tudyk:
I know, you’ve probably already seen it. I’m a couple days behind the Internet machine. But bear with me?
So obviously this is an exaggerated portrayal. But it’s not super far off the mark – at least in terms of public opinion of Congress. The most recent statistic I’ve seen on Google puts the average approval rating of Congress at a staggeringly low 11%. Only 11% of the country approves of the shenanigans that happen in their government. But you know what the re-election rate of these assholes is? Fucking 90%. Incumbents almost never get voted out, because nobody really pays that much attention to Congressional elections – especially when they happen in a year without a Presidential race. In case anyone at all didn’t know, seats in both the House and the Senate are up for election every two years. This governing body could be shifting as often as every two years, but it continues to remain almost exactly the same because nobody votes out their Congressman.
Before I moved to DC, I had a vague sense of “Washington” as the place where government happens. Which is technically true – POTUS, Congress, and 95% of all federal agencies have at least a headquarters in the District. But people outside of DC view Washington as more than just the physical place where it happens – it seems to be considered synonymous with government, like a short-hand that people use to avoid repeating the same word over and over. “Last year, Washington voted to increase murder rates of babies by 10%” etc etc. This is also where you get the new trend of politicians saying they’re “not a Washington insider,” as if not being skilled or experienced with governing is a bragging right.
Is this a wink? A stroke? Hard to say.
What I didn’t realize until I moved here is that DC and the government are two very separate things. This seems obvious, but as I mentioned before, when you don’t live in the DMV (DC-Maryland-Virginia, for those of you not up on your lingo) you don’t really separate Washington the city and Washington the seat of government in your mind.
Now, a big chunk of the city is connected to the government. 38% of DC workers are federal employees, which is the largest percentage in the country. That’s not including all the people who work for government contractors, which accounts for a huge amount of the actual day-to-day work of government. For example, one of my roommates works for the Department of Transportation, and when they need a cost/benefit analysis done they use contractors instead of government employees. This is ALSO not counting all of the people who work for the government or for contractors who live in Maryland and Virginia – outside of DC limits but inside of the DC metro area. During the day Washington’s population is around 2 million, but at night that number plummets to just over half a million. Considering those of us DC residents who work outside of the city (myself included, I work in Virginia), the vast majority of all the people working in the city are actually living outside of it. These federal employees and contractors – including the ones who work in Congress and help advise the elected officials – are the gears and grease that keeps the government machine moving. On top of that, think about all those other people, whose existence should be obvious but who you never consider: doctors, lawyers, bankers, baristas, servers, cooks, nurses, union organizers, bartenders, salespeople, shop owners, real estate agents, artists, janitors, teachers, bus drivers, etc etc etc. This is a real city full of all the same people that other cities have, just with an added dash of your politicians.
Yes, that’s right. I said your politicians.
DC is considered a “federal district” and not a state, and therefore we have no representation in Congress. We have a shadow Senator and a shadow House Representative, neither of whom are sworn in, seated, or recognized as part of Congress. We also have a non-voting delegate, who – as the name suggests – is not able to vote on the floor of the House (although she can vote on procedural matters and in congressional committees…woo democracy).
But even though we have no representation, the US Constitution grants Congress exclusive jurisdiction over the District in “all cases whatsoever.” Outside of revenue from parking tickets and speed traps, DC’s budget is set by the District but approved by Congress. DC’s laws are set by Congress. You can imagine that most people in the District have a very negative view of Congress.
This is what our actual license plates look like.
Two years ago, Washington voted to decriminalize marijuana. And by that, I mean about 73% of DC residents voted in favor. A month or so later, members of Congress tried to pass a budget that included a stipulation reversing that decision. Because Congress is not beholden to DC, they’re beholden to their constituents in Wisconsin or Arizona or Ohio. It’s politically easy to be “anti-drug” when the people you’re cracking down against don’t have a say in your election.
Remember when Ted Cruz led the House Republicans to shut down the government in 2013 because they wanted to include resolutions in the budget that would have curtailed Obamacare? It took just over two weeks. You probably remember watching it unfold and thinking about how spoiled those people in Washington were being, throwing temper tantrums and deciding not to do their jobs just because they didn’t want to compromise. Well, here in DC we watched it unfold and thought about how shitty it was that these people were holding the city hostage in their pissing contest. Remember that 38% of workers who were federal employees? The majority were furloughed for those 16 days with delayed pay. Government contractors were not paid at all for that time. Monuments and museums – run by the National Park Service – were closed. DC suspended payments to healthcare providers and managed care organizations that provide care to the 220,000 low-income and disabled residents who qualified for Medicaid, because our pre-approved reserve funds (see above re: tickets) were not enough to pay for Medicaid and also keep other city services like trash collection running.
Fuck this guy. Fuck this guy and his creepy, misshapen face.
A real “Washington Insider” isn’t a politician who’s worked in Congress before – it’s someone who knows that the best bars are in Shaw and on H St (shots fired), who’s been to the weekly fair-weather drum circle in Malcolm X Park, who knows that you can’t park anywhere near the National Mall without spending >$25 or circling for thirty minutes (and who knows that the National Mall is where all the monuments are, and not a giant shopping center).
All of this is to say that this Tuesday, November 8th 2016, there are other names on the ballot besides Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (and Gary Johnson and Jill Stein and that other guy whatshisname). If you don’t want to vote for the President because you “can’t decide” or you want to lodge a protest, I won’t argue with you. Nothing I say now is going to change your mind in the next 48 hours.
I live in DC so my vote isn’t worth shit. But if you live outside of the District – which, statistically, you do – then please vote down the ballot on Tuesday. 34 Senate seats and all 435 House seats are up this cycle. That’s 88% of Congress. Vote for the Congressmen who will actually get shit done and do their jobs. You know who’s up for re-election this year? Marco Rubio. Rand Paul. POTUS is obviously incredibly important, but the day-to-day legislating is done by a bunch of stressed-out overworked policy nerds shepherding around the shitheads who are used to staying in power. If you’re upset with the way Congress has been acting (or failing to act, more likely) then vote them out of office! Let’s get some people in the House and the Senate who are willing to reach across the aisle and willing to compromise, so that we can have a government that actually functions instead of one that acts like Chris Pine in the video at the top.
This is what democracy is about.