The Russians I met back in 1965 on a study tour of the then Soviet Union may have had it right with their observation about the superiority of their legislature vs. Western legislatures, that one could tell simply by their names. Back then I heard from several Russian friends that while the British legislature is called parliament, from the French “to speak,” and the American legislature is called Congress, from the Latin “to congregate” (have a meeting, so to speak), the Russian legislature is the Duma, from the Russian verb “to think.”
Since I was a guest in their country at the time, and a polite guest by nature, I went along with their joke.
But recently I found in my book club’s monthly read a discussion about our Congress and how much Americans have more contempt than love for the institution. Those of us who haven’t made it our life’s work to ensure President Obama never hears a kind word are especially prone to view Congress as obstructionist. Witness the Senate’s refusal to even consider a Supreme Court nominee.
But the dismal amount of popularity for Congress isn’t exactly a new thing, and here is modest, historical proof, a ditty about the very first Congress, the Continental Congress of 1776:
“These hardy knaves and stupid fools, Some apish and pragmatic mules, Some servile acquiescing tools, These, these compose the Congress!
When Jove resolved to send a curse, And all the woes of life rehearse, Not plague, not famine, but much worse, He cursed us with a Congress.”
(Source: “A More Perfect Constitution, Larry J. Sabato, 2007, Walker Publishing, Chapter 1, Note 1. Quoted from the 1776 Pennsylvania Evening Post.)