Here's how representative democracy works: We send a representative from our district or state to Washington, where they become one of either 435 House members or 100 senators. They can introduce legislation, serve on committees, and make speeches. But for one of them to do something really far-reaching is rare. That's especially true when you're new to the institution, partially because you need the cooperation of a majority of your colleagues to pass something, and partially because of the nature of seniority. When you're a freshman, you don't get to waltz in and write the next big tax bill. You don't get to chair the Appropriations Committee.
In case you haven't seen it, there's a new poll out from the National Journal which finds that only 20 percent of Americans -- and only 33 percent of Democrats, for gosh sakes -- think that this Congress has accomplished more than previous Congresses. Steve Benen gives the appropriate response:
I don't envy legal reporters. If you're a sportswriter, you don't have to start every article on the latest Yankees-Red Sox game by patiently explaining the arcane rules of baseball -- it's understood that your readers know them. But if you write about the law, the context for your stories is a system with complex procedures and arcane precedents, and a significant chunk of what you write is going to have to be an explanation of how the system works. Furthermore, while most journalism revolves around people -- characters who can be cast in competing roles, often as heroes or villains -- by the time a case gets to the Supreme Court, it usually has almost nothing to do with the original plaintiff and defendant.