Why Our Political System's Screwed, in One Very Basic Chart

Look well upon the chart above these words. This proves that we're all hypocrites, or unable to control our political destinies, or both.

That chart, along with a bunch of other disturbing data, comes courtesy of the National Journal. Even though voters claim to hate Congress now more than ever, not a single incumbent has lost a primary.

NJ explains this with the usual "politics is local" wisdom: We hate Congress, but we like our individual congressional representative. Plus, most districts are gerrymandered in partisan ways. And of course, there's always the chance that those incumbents can lose the general election, though they rarely do.

They seem to me to miss one important point of the chart, though. Why aren't incumbents losing primaries? Obviously, a lot of the challenges they get are from wingnuts and inexperienced hyper-partisans—not just tea partiers, but LaRouchies and the like. But if a talented pool of potential party challengers exists—and in many places, it does—why are they not running, or losing when they do?

The answer seems to me to be: party power and money. If you're an incumbent who's doing the party some solids, you're going to get party support for your reelection campaign. And you're going to have great donor relationships. If you're a congressional hopeful with a great dossier, sorry. Be nice and wait your turn.

Plenty of the fault, though, lies with us, the voters. Not every incumbent is that good, not even on a subjective local view. Yet we're likelier to defer to the experienced congressman—even a standard scandal-embroiled one—than the upstart, especially if a primary challenge could be spun as a weakness to whichever party is our beloved one.

What's the solution? I don't fricking know. But—and I can't believe I'm saying this, like really saying this—if this Congress was half the Congress that Newt Gingrich's 1994 Congress was, maybe we could re-start a conversation about term limits. Wouldn't that be fun!

[Photo credit: National Journal]