While Obama bashers love to belabor any drop in his poll numbers the fact is he is nowhere near as unpopular as Congress(or the Republicans for that matter).
Indeed even for a Congress, this current Congress has very low numbers. And more people than ever disapprove of their own representative which is unusual. Usually people disapprove of Congress as a whole yet like their own congress person and plan to re-elect them. Not so now, only 33% of those polled say their own Rep. deserves re-election.
Why is this? Part of this is the current Right wing tea party make up of the House. But I think the structure of Congress itself is part of the problem. To put it this way: Congress is always the problem. I mean you can have-and we have had-(many) bad Presidents but the very procedural structure of the U.S. Congress tends to make it what it is: the most unproductive branch of the three branches of American government.
Here is the paradox: structurally and procedurally speaking Congress would seem to be the most democratic of the three branches yet the record is that it tends to impede progress. It's natural state is inertia, it's tendency is always toward gridlock.
If you're a liberal isn't it a fact that the really big accomplishments never come as the result of Congress' initiative? Let's take a cursory look: who gave us the Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln, of course a (great) President. Who gave us the New Deal? FDR. Who gave us the Civil Rights Voting Act of 1964? LBJ: true, technically speaking it was passed by Congress but at the behest of LBJ, it was his initiative. Congress followed his lead.
Or how about a woman's right to choose? The Supreme Court. Or how about the recent block of the death penalty for that case in Texas? Again a federal judge. In other words the executive branch or judicial branch are where positive change usually initiates. No doubt recently there have been some very bad judicial decisions-corporations are people, etc. But this is more a function of having too many Republican appointed judges: at the present 60% of federal judges are Republican appointees.
Even so, the judiciary every day does many things very well, the system as such works well, any complaint we have is with the wrong judges who have the wrong ideologies being appointed, but the procedural structure of the judiciary is sound as is the executive branch. This ideology is ironically, opposition to judical power itself.
This is not true for the legislature. It is (a large part of) the problem. Why is this? A large part of conservative ideology comes down to this: we(conservatives) don't want government to work right; we actively seek to make government as ineffective as possible as we know that doing so creates the optimal vicious circle and self-fulfilling prophecy we desire.
Everything about Congress' producers tends to make it the optimum branch for conservatives. A classic examole of this is the fillibuster which effectively means nothing can pass without a super majority of 60 votes.
I do think you can argue that-in practice rather than theory-Congress is the most conservative branch of U.S. government. There's a reason why the Right has always demonized the judiciary for example. And to be honest there is a reason why FDR wanted to pack the Supreme Court with as much as 15 justices.
The ineffectiveness of Congress which is the reason behind it's perennial unpopularity with the American people-people don't like Congress because it's natural tendency is to not be responsive to their needs-comes from the paradox of its democratic procedure. It is in the nature of things that rule by committee is unenlightened and conservative as opposed to ironically enough, the rule of a strong executive. Many people may take issue with this but they do so at the level of principle. It sounds wrong. I however am interested in taking the principle of congresses, multi-cameral legislatures, etc. and putting it next to their record.
In the U.S. at least the results are not pretty. This same principle can be seen even at the city level where cities with a weak mayoral system are dominated by a city council where nothing ever gets done-certainly with such council's dominating the legislative agenda it is very hard for any development for the city to get done.
Let's take another classic example from conservative ideology: schools. According the conservatives we want control of schools to be local, as close to the people as possible. Yet nothing is less responsive to your needs and desires as a resident, a citizen, or a parent than a local school board. An institution like this tends to be cliquish, conservative, unelightened and often down right fundamentalist like in Kansas.
The trouble with these kinds of rule by committee groups is there are usually a few dominant members that effectively run the group and anyone new has to knuckle under or they will be on the outs with the group. We are at a argument that goes back at least to Aristotle in his Politics of the best form of government. It seems to me that the oligopoly of power in the sorts bodies are in effect far more reactionary than rule by a strong executive.
Think of it this way: if tomorrow you wanted to were elected to Congress how long would it take for you to be able to influence this body in the interests of the people who sent you here? As one of 535 members whether House or Senate your standing is low as a johnny come lately especially as most of us don't, you don't have a name of standing as a Kennedy or indeed Hillary had when she won in 2000.
To be able to have any influence you will have to "pay your dues" ie, kiss some asses. Maybe after 15 or 20 years of this you have arrived and are a player. Congratulations! But to become such you owe a lot of people for your powerful committee chairmanships and could lose it if you go off on too independent a direction.
Isn't this, for example, what is supposed to have done in Anthony Weiner? Remember Harry Reid's icy answer to the question what advice he would give Weiner if asked? "Call someone else."
If you want to effect change quickly running for mayor or governor-or if you really have the resources few of us have at this time-president. I myself by accident of birth(I have a dual citizenhsip in Britan and the U.S. but while I grew up here, coming over when I was 3, I was born in Britain) don't have this optiion...
In saying this I will offer this admittedly problematic disclosure and say that I don't mean the above to in any way discourage you if you do have any such ambitions to run for Congress or State...
Obviously I have painted-by design-with something of a broad brush(often doing so brings clarity that too much qualification doesn't afford us).
But I do stand by my central point. Congress is a congenitally unpopular branch of government because it is a congenitally obstructive, slow moving body, that tends towards ossification, inertia and gridlock. It most often impedes progress. In the 30s it accomplished a lot and but this was through an overwhelmingly Democratic majority in both Houses; even here FDR usually took the initiative and was often opposed by conservative Democrats.
By design most progressive change has come through either the executive or judicial branch. Congress at it's best tends to still be a supporting rather than leading role.
These musings come from the fact that we need an effective government that works and haven't been getting that for awhile to put a fine point on it. As such it could theoritcally be argued that it transcends the conservative-liberal divide. However theory is one thing pracice is another. In reality it doesn't as the very ideolgoy of conservatism is that "government does not work" then of course conservatives do everything to make sure this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So this problem is one for liberals. Again after all sayign all this I dont't think it's pointless running and serving in Congress, far from it, but it should be understood where change has always come from and why this is.