What if we held politicians to the same standards as football players? When football players break the law, Americans demand they be benched, cut, or suspended before they get due process. But when politicians are indicted they get to stick around, spending our money until a jury of their peers—there's a terrifying thought—passes judgment. It's possible that Americans have misplaced priorities.
Let's get something straight: Getting cut from a football team is the least that should happen to those who punch women or whip children. I'm all for Americans declaring that violence against women and children is unacceptable and demanding justice. Delaying action to let the legal process play out is a moral dodge and a game for lawyers. We call balls and strikes on the field, and we should call right and wrong off the field.
So why are we so easygoing when politicians are indicted? When Rick Perry was indicted on two felony counts for abuse of office and coercion of a public official, suddenly he became the poster boy of the Republican-of-the-Month club, celebrated in Iowa and New Hampshire for standing up to those liberals in Austin, by gum and by God.
In New York, Rep. Michael Grimm got hit with a 20-count indictment related to his past business dealings, and he's not only running for re-election in a swing district, but according to sources quoted by POLITICO, he's winning.
And before you say, "Oh, but we're unforgiving about the sex scandals," take a look at Mark Sanford (R-Appalachian Trail) and his fellow congressman Scott DesJarlais, the Tennessee doctor who got a patient pregnant and then pressured her to have an abortion. Both are locks to return to congress—and in deeply red districts, at that.
It's not like Americans are walking around with a general feeling of satisfaction about government. Barack Obama's approval ratings are nothing to write home about, but they look like bragging material next to the low esteem in which Americans hold Congress. Congress has a 13 percent approval rating, lower than cockroaches, head lice, and colonoscopies. (It's not all bad: Congress is still better liked than meth labs, gonorrhea and the Ebola virus.)
But will Americans re-elect Congress, leaving the same people in charge? Yes, because Americans don't really care. I mean, we're not talking about football here.
Herein lies the problem: Americans are far more interested in football than we are politics. And by "interested" I really mean "literate," because when it comes to acting like a democracy, most of us are a bunch of slobbering fools who never knew we held the title to this government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Want proof? Are you sure? This is going to hurt: The Annenberg Public Policy Center recently found that only 36 percent of Americans can name all the branches of government. Apparently Perry isn't the only one who has trouble counting to three.
What does this ignorance mean for holding politicians as accountable as we demand Goodell holds football players? The Annenburg Center also found that only 38 percent of Americans know that Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives. You can't fire someone if you don't know they hold a job you didn't even know existed.
Maybe the Scotts had it right when they decided to stay in the United Kingdom, because I'm not sure self-rule is working out in a country where "as high as one in three voters are unable to comprehend the very news they depend upon for their voting decisions when forced to read it," according to Christopher McDaniel in PolicyMic. Is it too late to ask England for take-backs?
So go ahead, America, let's focus on the boorish, illegal, and sadistic behavior of the gladiators in the arena. Pay no mind that the Roman senate is perfectly happy to make a mockery of our democracy while we distract ourselves with millionaires in colorful tights. After all, we get the government we deserve, even if we can't name all three branches of it.
© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford.