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King: Politicians evolve, adapt only for their benefit, not publics
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Less than 40 percent of the American public approve of the way President Barack Obama is running the country. Nevertheless, he’ll probably run for a second term, but right now there is little indication that he can win.

On the other hand, Americans think even less of the U.S. Congress. All of the House and one-third of the Senate will run for re-election in 2012, but everything we know from past elections says most of them will win.

This is a huge disconnect. We don’t like the president. Throw him out. We dislike Congress even more, but we keep voting them back in. 

History shows us that incumbents get re-elected 90 percent of the time. The only new blood enters the system when a member of Congress retires and when the seat becomes open.

Term limits have been proposed but never accepted. However, if we keep putting the same people back into the same system, how can we expect things to improve?

The next disconnect is the way campaigns are run. Those running for office start earlier and spend more each election cycle, yet the voters are less and less happy with the results.

One way to explain this is evolution. Yes evolution, which is not just change through time, it is the survival — the perpetuation and growth — of things that work; and it applies to just about everything, not just plants and animals. Species that thrive in a certain environment will breed more of their own kind. A social system that works will expand.

But sometimes the trigger for success turns deleterious, a term anthropologists like to use when mutations are harmful. The example I was given in school was a species of tropical birds. The female birds liked their mates to have big brightly colored tail feathers. The bigger and longer, the better, and they bred with them to the exclusion of shorter-tailed males.

Eventually the tails in succeeding generations became so long and heavy the males could no longer fly. They were gobbled up by predators, and the species died out.

When Darwin talked about the survival of the fittest, he was talking about species survival within a natural environment. But the survival of a cultural trait means survival within a particular social environment.

Politics wasn’t always as dysfunctional as it is today. It has become that way because of how the system works. The more money politicians raise, the better their chance of winning. The better the spin-doctors and political advisors they can afford, the more media coverage they get. The more outrageous their exaggerations and accusations, the more they’re repeated, even if nobody actually believes them.

But what makes a successful politician — remember, we are equating success with survival — does not make for good government. 

Politicians don’t want to be bad people. They simply want to make their friends happy and keep their job. And I suspect they kind of like the sound of their own voices.

Congress is dysfunctional because as individuals its members have been successful — successful as politicians. Congress fails the public because being a successful politician is a function of money, personal charm and knowing the right people, not concern for the public’s welfare.

This is the way the system works today. If we want change, we have to change the way we choose our representatives.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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