Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Which politician do you hate?

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 6:46 AM EDT, Mon October 21, 2013
Connecticut delegates Roger Sherman, left, and Oliver Ellsworth drafted the Great Compromise, a plan for congressional representation, in 1787. Without this, there likely would have been no Constitution. Many more compromises have followed in U.S. political history. Connecticut delegates Roger Sherman, left, and Oliver Ellsworth drafted the Great Compromise, a plan for congressional representation, in 1787. Without this, there likely would have been no Constitution. Many more compromises have followed in U.S. political history.
HIDE CAPTION
Political compromises in U.S. history
Political compromises in U.S. history
Political compromises in U.S. history
Political compromises in U.S. history
Political compromises in U.S. history
Political compromises in U.S. history
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: Frustration with politics leads people to lash out with hatred
  • She says rather than hate Bush, Obama, Boehner or Cruz, look at the root causes
  • Ghitis says U.S. political system rewards polarization, which wins low-turnout elections
  • Centrists need to speak out to put politicians on the right track, she says

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter @FridaGhitis.

(CNN) -- Which politician do you hate? Do you think President Barack Obama wants to destroy America? Or do you believe former President George W. Bush is the one who sent the country into the abyss? What about Ted Cruz, Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner -- which one of them do you think is the devil incarnate?

Americans, disgusted by the failures in Washington, have increasingly resorted to personalizing the blame, drawing imaginary bull's-eyes and throwing figurative darts at the faces of the politicians whose views they disagree with, all the while fantasizing about throwing the people they despise out of political office.

Unfortunately, the problem goes much deeper than a few individuals, however incompetent or despicable: Throw out the ones you hate, and you'll get new ones to blame, because the problems will not disappear without repairing the flaws in the system that brought the country to this embarrassing and self-destructive place.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

The people are rightly fed up. In the middle of the just-ended federal shutdown, polls showed most Americans blamed the mess on Republicans, but approval for the entire Congress, which has Democrats as well as Republicans, sank to an incredible 5%. The prevailing sentiment was revulsion.

The question, however, is not how awful the politicians are. The question is why American voters ended up with representatives whose performance they find so thoroughly reprehensible.

The answer to that question provides a path to solving the problem.

Cruz brushes off threats to his safety
Analysis: Tea Party caucus like vampires

The problem is not just that the nation has divided and moved into partisan echo chambers, where everyone listens only to the people with whom they agree. Each side listens to its own favorite commentators on television and radio; each follows like-minded thinkers on Twitter and Facebook. In that system, the most vitriolic speech is the most highly rewarded.

Moderate Americans have less tantalizing things to say.

If you think the other side is driven only by selfish motives or by nefarious goals, you will find a willing, enthusiastic and fast-growing audience. But if you believe that the differences stem from different life experiences and honest philosophical disagreements and if you believe that Republicans and Democrats want what is best for the country but have distinct ideas about what that means or how to achieve it, your views will get little traction in this emotionally charged environment.

The irony is that those moderate views represent America most faithfully. A recent poll by NBC and Esquire magazine concluded that most Americans are social and political centrists, in sharp contrast to the clashes of extremes that we see in the media, on the Internet and in Congress.

The poll showed the majority supports same-sex marriage, legal marijuana, paid maternity leave, child care subsidies to help new mothers get back to work, a higher minimum wage and paid sick leave. But a majority also supports the death penalty, offshore drilling and the end of affirmative action in hiring and education. This is not the picture of an extremist country. It's the picture of a nation trying to come to grips with difficult questions.

That, of course, is not how Congress looks. There, everyone seems absolutely certain on every issue, even if certainty is something that should elude us all frequently if we are honest about our human limitations.

So how did we end up with a Congress that looks so different from America?

One of the main reasons is voter apathy. Most voters are paying attention right now, horrified by the spectacle put on by their representatives. But when the time comes for choosing those representatives, particularly during midterms and local elections, they become distracted, leaving the job to the zealots, those people who care most passionately about politics and are most closely affiliated with activist political groups.

As a result, whichever side is most energized -- often the one feeling most aggrieved -- manages to mobilize for the low-turnout elections.

In 2010, the flames of hatred against Barack Obama burned hot, just as they had once burned against George W. Bush on the other side of the political spectrum. The 2010 election not only took more right-wing Republicans to Washington, it also gave them historic gains in state legislatures.

Local control of legislatures has allowed the parties to sharpen their gerrymandering pens -- drawing safe congressional districts that all but guarantee re-election.

Americans may want to fire all of Congress, but they don't want to fire their own representative. That means there is little incentive to compromise. Inflexible politicians are rewarded by voters, and the country suffers.

Not only is the government not providing the best possible solutions for America's problems, it is, in fact, creating new problems, causing unemployment. Just as the U.S. economy managed to pull out of recession, the politicians put their shoulder to the wheel and pushed in the wrong direction.

The shutdown that just ended and the flirtation with the potential disaster of running against the debt ceiling are the latest chapter in a long-running political soap opera. It might be entertaining if it weren't so damaging.

According to one study, the fiscal standoffs since 2009 have lowered growth by 0.3% of GDP each year, amounting by some calculations, to $700 billion in lost GDP.

Among other costs, that means 900,000 jobs lost.

The shutdown has cost America in global leadership, a loss it won't soon recover. America has been weakened. Its rivals are gloating.

And now that the two sides have finally reached a deal to reopen the government, the agreement is good for just three months. That means more uncertainty, more government-made pushback against recovery and job creation, more talented federal employees deciding they've had enough of working for an employer that suddenly tells them "don't come to work tomorrow, even if you want to."

Centrists, the majority of the country, would help America simply by speaking out as forcefully for moderate positions as the zealots do, by encouraging people to listen to different points of views, by pushing for a return to more mixed congressional districts and by making sure to vote in all elections.

Instead of wasting energy raging against individual politicians, it would be more productive to fight against apathy and against demonization.

Hating individual politicians misses the point. Fight instead to fix the system that is broken.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:31 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT