Throw the bums out

November 01, 1994|By Rowland Nethaway

Waco, Texas -- THE VOTERS are on the verge of doing to Democrats in the Congress what they did to Republicans in the White House -- throw the bums out.

Incredibly, Republicans have a chance to take control of the House for the first time in 40 years. Republicans have had control of the House for only four of the past 63 years. And the Republicans also are on the verge of taking control of the Senate where they have been in power for less than a dozen years.

But if America's voters actually hand control of Congress to the Republicans in the Nov. 8 general election, the victors had best not be too cocky. The voters aren't casting ballots for what they like as much as for what they don't like, which is whoever happens to be in control of what appears to be an out-of-control federal government.

While Republicans and Democrats have feverishly flung mud and brickbats at one another, they have overlooked the fact that fewer and fewer voters identify with either party.

Americans are getting fed up with both parties.

Americans are increasingly frustrated with government. A Time-CNN poll found 91 percent of Americans say they have little or no confidence in Washington to solve the nation's problems. In another recent poll, only 9 percent of Americans rated members of Congress as "high" or "very high" when it comes to honesty and ethics.

The voters want change. They want to change whoever is in charge.

The majority party in Congress sets the rules. For years the Democratic leadership has set rules to punish Republicans, who have reacted in kind at every opportunity. The childish antics of both parties push Americans out of both political tents, a trend that could destroy the two-party system that has faithfully sustained the world's oldest democracy.

Apparently incapable of ending gridlock, balancing the budget or weaning themselves from free meals and junkets from lobbyists and big-buck campaign contributions from powerful special interest groups, both political parties increasingly alienate Americans from politics. Shoved out of the political process, many Americans feel their votes can't change a system impervious to the will of the people. Voter participation dwindles.

But even Americans who feel their votes can't change Washington politics are not apathetic. They are angry. And they are more than willing to jump back into voting booths if they thought someone could make a difference. Remember, Ross Perot got 19 percent of the vote in the 1992 presidential race even though he quit on his followers and showed himself to be a bit out of kilter.

While Republicans and Democrats focus on destroying one another, the people could well decide to ditch the two-party system and have a go at democracy without parties. Worse, an angry and frustrated electorate opens the door for demagogues and nut cases to assume power.

Unless Republicans and Democrats learn to respect one another and re-learn the lost art of negotiation for the greater good, voters will continue to become increasingly angry and frustrated.

Winning control of Congress in this election may be no more than a ticket to be fired in the next election.

Rowland Nethaway is senior editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald.

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