Mr. Smith Goes To Washington - 1939
The days of Sen. Jefferson Smith are sadly over. Congress is no longer the vehicle for idealistic young politicians eager to make a meaningful change. It's now designed to protect the status quo: districts are drawn to protect parties; campaigns require a ridiculous amount of money so that it becomes impossible for anyone without a whole lot of cash to even launch a credible campaign.
It wasn't always that way. We've had politicians from modest circumstances. They understood the concerns of every day Americans. But while we've seen the wealth of most Americans go down in the last twenty five years, the wealth of members of Congress has gone way, way up:
Between 1984 and 2009, the median net worth of a member of the House more than doubled, according to the analysis of financial disclosures, from $280,000 to $725,000 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars, excluding home equity.
Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding from $20,600 to $20,500, according to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan.
The comparisons exclude home equity because it is not included in congressional reporting, and 1984 was chosen because it is the earliest year for which consistent wealth statistics are available.
The growing disparity between the representatives and the represented means that there is a greater distance between the economic experience of Americans and those of lawmakers.
Unsurprisingly, this income disparity has resulted in greater and greater polarization in voting as well:
Thus, we're looking at a congress that are less our elected representatives and more representative of the one percent. This is why cutting social safety programs make sense...they can't imagine anyone like them actually needing them.