Representative sample

Recall the 2009 hullabaloo about how the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, required “four reams of paper” to print, because its length clocked in at “thousands of pages”? While some of this hysteria was deliberately engineered to symbolize the physical embodiment of Big Government, those who actually read the Senate versions of legislation understood something that escaped the punditry and armchair legislators: with only 12 senators under the age of 50, according to Michael Bommarito,

“Those versed in the typesetting practices of the United States Congress know that the printed version of a bill contains a significant amount of whitespace including non-trivial space between lines, large headers and margins, an embedded table of contents, and large font. For example, consider page 12 of the printed version of H.R. 3962. This page contains fewer than 150 substantive words.”

Translation: elderly readers require a million-point font; at standard 12 point type, those “thousands of pages” shrink down to roughly the size of a Harry Potter novel. Being represented by a council of wise elders has certain drawbacks and skewing effects.


For instance, a sizable majority of Americans support Obama’s gun control proposals; 91% for background checks, 60% are in favor of the assault weapons ban. Yet somehow, it’s considered to be an extraordinarily heavy lift to get either of these measures through congress.

Brendon Ayanbadejo, shot for Men’s Journal by photographer John Loomis.
Similarly, a a Washington Post poll this month found that 58% of Americans support gay marriage. Even in the hypermasculine bastion of professional football, players are lobbying for marriage equality – yet members of congress are significantly less willing to entertain the idea than voters are.

Leaving out money and class – a difficult ask, since the makeup of congress is overwhelmingly white and wealthy, in addition to elderly; the cultural lag of our elected representatives may best be explained in terms of their own outdated perspectives. For instance, a working paper showed that elected representatives overestimated the conservatism of their constituents by 20 points, on average. Clearly, the American public is culturally outpacing their representatives on a number of important issues – but what is truly troubling is the question of whether said representatives know it, and choose to ignore it, or if they have no idea at all that those they are leading are headed in an entirely different direction.