On a sunny, crisp fall day in the Gainesville square, with a singer strumming out tunes on his acoustic guitar, the setting seemed too serene for gritty, political talk, especially in the wake of partisan finger-pointing and rhetoric from the nation’s capital.
But a few downtown visitors didn’t mind opening up, sharing their thoughts with The Times about the goings-on of U.S. elected officials and the gridlock that seems to envelope every major issue.
And, reflecting the low approval ratings in recent polls, they’re not particularly happy with the performance of the government and — maybe worse yet — don’t think things will improve soon.
“I am frustrated,” said Lauren Hockaday of Cleveland. “I feel like there are a lot of selfish ambitions. I don’t know necessarily that there are pure intentions for the greater (population).”
Kristy Sacik of Pendergrass said she believes legislators, “feel like they’re doing their best, but I also think they get so high up there that they forget what it was like to be us, to be able to eat or make a car payment or electric bill.
“They’re so disconnected from the people.”
Lajos Toth of Gainesville said compromise seems to be lacking and that’s a problem that’s “getting worse and worse.”
“The lines are so separate now that it seems like there’s no room for compromise on either side,” he said.
And the polarization couldn’t come at a worse time, he added, when Congress is wrestling over such key issues as health care and stark financial issues, particularly the debt ceiling and deficit.
“Compromise should have been achieved with the shutdown,” Toth said. “It weakens both parties.”
Danny Locke, a Gainesville native living in Jefferson, said, “I don’t like either party right now. I’m not a Democrat, but the Republicans have let us down — they have taken everything the Democrats have thrown at them.
“So here we are. I don’t know what’s wrong with the country as where we are financially. I know it’s bad and you can’t blame it on one person.”
Cori Salter of Gainesville said she tends to believe Republicans are more to blame with recent crises, “but I can’t say anybody is right.”
“Nobody wants to make a bad decision and be blamed later, but making no decision ... is even worse,” she said. “It’s like little kids on the playground. ‘No, it’s my way and no other way.’ It doesn’t give me confidence in our current government.
“You want to throw them out and start again.”
Sacik particularly criticized President Barack Obama.
“I feel like Obama feels like he is doing the best that he can do at this time, that he has his best interests at heart but maybe not all of the American people,” she said. “I feel like we’re the ‘little man’ and we have been hit hard by this — the whole shutdown, the economy.”
Sacik said her family moved to the area from Titusville, Fla., where the federal government shutdown, which lasted Oct. 1-16, “affected 90 percent of the people I knew.” Titusville is home of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
“I have no hope while Obama is in office,” she said. “I really feel he has his heels dug in and he’s standing firm in what he wants.”
According to Gallup polling data, Americans’ basic opinions of Obama and key congressional leaders are worse today than they were before the shutdown.
Net favorable ratings of Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell are at least 10 percentage points lower than before, with a smaller 5-point decline for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, according to the pollster’s website.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s image has improved slightly but remains more negative than positive, Gallup stated.
Charles Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia, said in an early October interview that national Democrats were looking like winners in the political battle with House Republicans. The shutdown is likely seen by the tea party members as a win for small government.
“There are more people that are likely to buy into the Democratic argument than the Republican argument,” he said.
Still, dissatisfaction is widespread and a “manifestation of that disconnect is that people have a very low opinion of Congress,” Bullock said, speaking last week.
“Another manifestation would be if you look at the question, ‘Is the nation on the right track or the wrong track?’ Wrong track numbers are way up.”
Fueling the fire is that instead of resolving the budget or the nation’s ability to borrow, Congress OK’d funding the government only until Jan. 15, and giving Treasury power to borrow above the $16.7 trillion limit up to Feb. 7.
It’s the “kick the can down the road” approach that, among other things, is not inspiring confidence among voters.
“There are all kinds of reasons to be concerned about how well the government functions or fails to function,” Bullock said.
University of North Georgia political science and history professor Douglas Young noted that people grumbling about their government isn’t new.
“The American people will tell pollsters they can’t stand Congress, but they will overwhelmingly elect their congressmen,” he said.
In 2004 elections, 99 percent of U.S. House members were re-elected and typically, more than 90 percent of House members and senators are returned to office.
“I think there is a deepening level of cynicism about the government in general and I think that might be somewhat inevitable when the size, reach, power and impact of the government all get greater and greater,” Young said. “I think Obamacare will increase that.”
The battle over health care reform — officially the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — has driven a hard wedge between members of Congress, creating much of the acrimony that so many Americans have heard and seen in the daily news.
One day after the shutdown ended, state Rep. Stacey Abrams, leader of the Georgia House Minority Caucus, said “the GOP obstructionists who engaged in brinksmanship with the lives of millions of Americans must be held to a higher standard by their constituents,” according to a Georgia Democratic Party news release.
“We are elected to do the business of government, and if we fail to do our jobs, legislators must be held to account,” Abrams said.
Mike Scupin of the local Lanier Tea Party said that while some say the recent budget showdown was “a negative, but many of us see it as a positive.
“By watching how those in Congress voted in the final vote, we saw what they truly represent,” he said.
“That is what ‘we the people’ must do. We must stop listening to campaign rhetoric of those in office and judge them by their actual records. So, we really learned a lot from many Republicans who have been telling us they want to end the Affordable Care Act by how they voted when they really had a chance to defund parts of it.”
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said he’s also frustrated by Washington’s gridlock — maybe more so, he added, because he tries to work at loosening it.
“But elections have consequences, and part of this was it is a divided government, and there are two very different philosophies,” he said.
Looking ahead, though, “we’ve got to look at the long-term fiscal state of our country and sometimes, we’re short-term thinkers.
“I’m trying to look at it 5, 10, 15 years down the road. ... I think that’s what a lot of us are looking for now — to find those ways we can deal with these long-term issues,” Collins said.