(City Journal) — Congress continues to rank dead-last in the most recent Gallup poll of public confidence in institutions. It’s no surprise: when representatives and senators aren’t squabbling, posturing, and at one another’s throats, such as during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, they’re saying and doing things that strain credulity. It’s no coincidence that insulting the intelligence of members of Congress is such a staple of American folk wisdom. “Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself,” quipped Mark Twain. “When Congress makes a joke it’s a law, and when they make a law, it’s a joke,” said Will Rogers.
Too often, though, the joke is on us. A friend of mine was seated at a banquet table with the family of a then-congressman from Kansas. Family members expressed relief at the congressman’s career in politics because none of them thought that he was smart enough to enter the family business—processing scrap metal. “When I was debating what became the 2008 Farm Bill,” said Colorado congressman John Salazar, “I had a member of the Agriculture Committee actually ask me if chocolate milk really comes from brown cows. I asked if he was joking and he assured me he wasn’t.” That’s in the same category as the concern of Representative Hank Johnson that stationing 8,000 U.S. military personnel on Guam would cause the island to “become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.”
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas once proclaimed that the U.S. Constitution was 400 years old. And as a member of the House Science Committee, Lee, during a visit to the Mars Pathfinder Operations Center, asked a NASA scientist whether the Pathfinder probe had photographed the flag that astronaut Neil Armstrong left behind in 1969.