Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Which politician do you hate?

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
October 21, 2013 -- Updated 1046 GMT (1846 HKT)
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
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2153 GMT (0553 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1331 GMT (2131 HKT)
Hands down, it's 'Hard Day's Night,' says Gene Seymour-- the exhilarating, anarchic and really fun big screen debut for the Beatles. It's 50 years old this weekend
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 2201 GMT (0601 HKT)
Belinda Davis says World War I plunged millions of women across the globe into "men's jobs," even as they kept home and hearth. The legacy continues into today.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1824 GMT (0224 HKT)
Pablo Alvarado says all the children trying to cross the U.S. border shows immigration is a humanitarian crisis that can't be solved with soldiers and handcuffs.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Elizabeth Mitchell says Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi dreamt up the symbolic colossus not for money, but to embody a concept--an artwork to amaze for its own sake. Would anyone do that today?
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says Jamaica sold two protected islands to China for a huge seaport, which could kill off a rare iguana and hurt ecotourism.
ADVERTISEMENT