THE BLOG

Is Congress Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

11/22/2011 10:58 am ET | Updated Jan 22, 2012

It appears that collectively, Congress would lose if they played the TV game, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? I think that most 5th graders would be better able to balance the budget and deal with the deficit than the leaders of this Congress. With their current 9-percent approval rating, one would think they would be making some effort to prove to the American people that they can do something, anything, but alas, I think they have given up.

I listen to Harry Reid (D-N.V.), Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and John Boehner (R-Ohio) and am usually equally unimpressed. They clearly aren't leading but rather following the members of their party who are espousing the worst that their party represents.

Most 5th graders would say to them, "Have some courage and do what's right. Put your leadership role and even your congressional seat on the line and lead." A 5th grader would know that we have to reform Social Security by raising the retirement age incrementally and taxing income up to $175,000, index Medicare over a period of years, cut some programs and let the Bush Tax Cuts expire, and that if we do these things, the deficit problem is solved. Then the country can move on. A 5th grader can tell you it isn't easy but that it is doable if we have courageous leaders.

But then 5th graders don't usually follow Congress or the machinations of Washington. Maybe that alone makes them smarter. Those of us who do realize that once members of Congress are elected, they are often much more interested in protecting their turf and their seats than they are in facing and solving the problems of the nation. And clearly, when they leave, even if they haven't accomplished much, they can go the route of Newt Gingrich and others and make millions selling their influence. What they clearly aren't is heroes. The last congressional hero I remember is now Chelsea Clinton's mother-in-law, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky. She knew that when she provided the deciding vote for President Bill Clinton's budget in 1993, she would lose her Congressional seat. But she had the courage to do the right thing.

Republican members of Congress are being led around by the nose by lobbyist and bully Grover Norquist, who, in his recent 60 Minutes interview, refused to say who funds his organization. He is clearly more interested in maintaining his power than working to fix the problems of the nation. Democratic members appear to be afraid of the AARP, which keeps threatening retaliation for any changes in Social Security or Medicare even when they know that the vast majority of their current members won't really be impacted. What 5th graders could tell Congress is that neither Norquist nor the AARP will have the influence they claim with the electorate if Congress just shows some guts! Schoolyard bullies often end up backing down. The public will accept a lot of change as long as Congress then passes legislation that will spur the job market and rebuild the infrastructure of the nation. The AARP and Norquist would be shown to be the boogeymen they are.

Adding insult to injury the Congressional super committee has not only failed, but its failure is sending the stock market into a tailspin and decimating people's 401k again. Instead of making excuses, they should just collectively hang their heads in shame.

The question most 5th graders would ask and the American public want to know is who will finally lead? Will President Obama finally take a stand and tell the American people what he will do if we elect him to a second term? Will he finally have the courage to tell people what he thinks is the serious plan for moving the nation forward rather than just talking in platitudes and campaigning? His advisors play politics because they think he can run against the do-nothing Congress and win a second term. But the people want more than a president playing politics. Now the other side is even worse. Clearly the newest reality comedy show on TV, otherwise known as the Republican Presidential Debates, can inspire nothing but fear lest any of these people becomes president. I can't imagine any one of them winning against a smart 5th grader.

In less than 12 months the American people will have the chance to weigh in. They will get to vote for members of Congress and a president. Maybe between now and next November there will be a "profile in courage" who will put forth a plan of action that could match that of a smart 5th grader. Maybe we will see some candidates who will inspire us to vote for them rather than the lesser of the evils. I am an optimist, and there is still time for someone to be the hero, but that time is quickly running out.