Matt Taibbi wrote a terrific piece for Rolling Stone in October 2006 about the Republican-led Congress in power at the time. He painted an unsettling picture of what he called the "Worst Congress Ever."
"These were the years," Taibbi wrote, "when the U.S. parliament became a historical punch line, a political obscenity on par with the court of Nero or Caligula -- a stable of thieves and perverts who committed crimes rolling out of bed in the morning and did their very best to turn the mighty American empire into a debt-laden, despotic backwater, a Burkina Faso with cable."
The article included this classic quote from Jonathan Turley: "The 109th Congress is so bad that it makes you wonder if democracy is a failed experiment."
That was six years ago. I think it's more than fair to say the current, 112th Congress makes the 109th look brilliant and responsible by comparison. Indeed, in all sincerity, I don't even think it's a close call. Ezra Klein had a great piece today, listing "13 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever."
Hating on Congress is a beloved American tradition. Hence Mark Twain's old joke, "Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." But the 112th Congress is no ordinary congress. It's a very bad, no good, terrible Congress. It is, in fact, one of the very worst congresses we have ever had.
Ezra's list is well worth reading, and the list is an effective indictment. Congress isn't legislating; it lacks public support; it's undermining the national economy; and it fails to complete basic tasks.
I'd only add that one of the consequences of having a Congress this abysmal is the extent to which it shapes our expectations. I've felt great relief on several occasions since the 112th Congress began when lawmakers managed to avoid government shutdowns that lawmakers themselves had threatened -- which is depressing, since I really shouldn't be impressed when the legislative branch of the United States government manages, just barely, to keep its own lights on.
We've internalized absurd standards. We simply assume as a matter of course that important policymaking is impossible, and we celebrate legislative moves that, in the recent past, were routine and remarkable.
There's no shortage of explanations for this, but at a certain point, Americans who showed up to vote in the 2010 midterms might need to accept some responsibility -- they elected some of the most manifestly unqualified policymakers in a generation, and the result is a Congress that's hard to watch without covering your eyes.