It is rather ironic that our congressional representation is more diverse than ever, yet rigidity in positions on hot-button issues severely limits the ability of those members to work toward common goals.
An article on Politico's website last week by Jeremy Herb noted that the 113th Congress has the fewest number of veterans as any Congress in recent history.
"Only 20 percent of today's lawmakers have served in the military, the lowest rate since World War II and a dramatic fall from over 70 percent in the 1970s," Herb wrote.
A Congressional Research Report published in March noted that 108 members – 88 in the U.S. House and 20 in the U.S. Senate – are veterans. That's 10 fewer than the number of veterans who served in the 112th Congress.
In Politico, Herb wrote, "In a symbolic end of an era, the 113th Congress will almost certainly be the last with any World War II veterans. There were three at the start of 2013, but Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) died last year, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is retiring and Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) lost his primary."
The loss of veterans, Herb wrote, probably has contributed to the demise of congeniality between the two major parties.
"Veterans who serve as lawmakers are also lauded for working across the aisle, a much-needed skill in today's partisan environment," he wrote.
The loss of representation from The Greatest Generation surely has a lot to do with the changing atmosphere in Congress. That was the generation, after all, that put their country ahead of their own needs, pitched in wherever and whenever they could when bad times hit and gave more than any before or since to preserve the freedoms that we all too often take for granted today.
By contrast, in the current Congress we are blessed with products of the Me Generation. Their only care is to get what they want for themselves. The greater good is a concept that is too foreign for them to grasp, and for some, compromise is something that should never be done under any circumstances.
They wrap themselves in the flag or the Constitution and declare their "right" to have it their way, a concept they apparently learned from a fast-food chain's advertising campaign. But they neglect the simple fact that everyone else also is entitled to those same rights, and to achieve harmony in this great nation we've always looked to the greater good for common ground.
We've come a long way since our founders decided that only white, male landowners had a right to vote in their newly formed "free" country where everyone was supposedly created equal.
Today, according to the Congressional Research Office report, "One hundred two women (a record number) serve in the 113th Congress: 82 in the House, including 3 Delegates, and 20 in the Senate. There are 42 African American Members of the House and 2 in the Senate. This House number includes 2 Delegates. There are 37 Hispanic or Latino Members (a record number) serving: 33 in the House, including 1 Delegate and the Resident Commissioner, and 4 in the Senate. Thirteen Members (10 Representatives, 2 Delegates, and 1 Senator) are Asian American or Pacific Islanders. Two American Indians (Native Americans) serve in the House."
When it comes to religion, the report notes, 56 percent are Protestant, followed by 31 percent Catholic, 6.2 percent Jewish and 2.8 percent Mormon. In addition, there are three Buddhists, two Muslims and one Hindu member of Congress. Other religions represented, according to the report, are Quaker, Greek Orthodox, Unitarian Universalist and Christian Science.
On education, the report notes, just 21 members of the House and one Senator have only a high school diploma. Law degrees are held by 169 House members and 57 senators – that's 38 percent and 57 percent respectively of total membership.
Previous to their public service, the members list everything from funeral home director and radio talk show host to astronaut as their former profession.
Diversity, apparently, is not lacking in Congress today. And that, in a nutshell, is the irony. We worked hard over more than two centuries to get everyone on a more equal footing, and we are closer to that goal than ever before. At the same time, we are less able to work together to achieve the utopian society we always dreamed of. Diversity of opinion, apparently has been ignored.
The men and women of the Greatest Generation must be shaking their heads in wonder – or disgust -- at our self-indulgence and me-first attitude. And we should all feel at least a little embarrassed by that.
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Jim Lee is the Carroll County Times' Editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.