Poll Numbers on Congress Wouldn’t Surprise Mark Twain

Photograph by United States Library of Congress

Mark Twain

With Congress in full swing — after a fashion — for more than a month now, its members might be disappointed to learn that no significant upturn has occurred in their low public esteem.

A Fox News poll released earlier this week showed 77 percent of voters giving lawmakers a thumbs down, with a mere 17 percent expressing approval of their job performance. The numbers are in line with results from other polls in January, though not quite as bad as the most negative findings at that time — the 12 percent positive, 82 percent negative view of Congress in a CBS News/New York Times survey.

The lawmakers at least can be thankful that Fox News didn’t follow the lead of the Public Policy Polling folks who, in a widely publicized report early last month, paired Congress with a long list of unpleasantries and often found it wanting. For instance, root canals, head lice, colonoscopies, traffic jams and Donald Trump all were rated more popular. The match-up with Trump, admittedly, was a close call: the Donald came in with 44 percent backing, compared with 42 percent preferring our solons.

One final bit of possible solace for the denizens of Capitol Hill — the image problem they face is nothing new. We recently ran across these pointed passages in “The Gilded Age,” a cynical take on post-Civil War Washington that was co-authored by Mark Twain and gave the name to the era it satirized:

“If you inquire around a little, you will find that there are more boardinghouses to the square acre in Washington than there are in any other city in the land, perhaps. If you apply for a home in one of them, it will seem odd to you to have the landlady inspect you with a severe eye and then ask you if you are a member of Congress. Perhaps, just as a pleasantry, you will say yes. And then she will tell you that she is “full.” Then you show her her advertisement in the morning paper, and there she stands, convicted and ashamed. She will try to blush, and it will be only polite in you to take the effort for the deed. She shows you her rooms, now, and lets you take one—but she makes you pay in advance for it. That is what you will get for pretending to be a member of Congress. If you had been content to be merely a private citizen, your trunk would have been sufficient security for your board. …”

“We are now reminded of a note which we have received from the notorious burglar Murphy, in which he finds fault with a statement of ours to the effect that he had served one term in the penitentiary and also one in the U. S. Senate. He says, `The latter statement is untrue and does me great injustice.’ ”

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