Like many Americans, I have been keeping up with the debate and discussion over the Democrats’ American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden after its passage last week.

In watching part of the debates, I was struck by a realization: Most of these people — our representatives and senators — have no idea what life is like on the ground in the United States. Whether “for” or “against” the stimulus, few of those I heard speak expressed the same questions and statements reflective of the people they’re supposed to represent.

There’s a lot of reasons for this disconnect. But perhaps one of the most glaring is in the difference between what it pays to be an American worker and what it pays to be a representative or senator. According to some data, the current average U.S. salary is $31,133 annually. At base, being a member of Congress pays $174,000. That’s before committee assignment increases and other perks.

In fact, you would have to go all the way back to before 1855 to find a time when being a congressperson paid as little as the average American worker in equivalent dollars. That’s 1855, nearly 200 years ago. For 200 years, the men and women elected to represent us in Washington D.C. have made not just a little bit more than the people who elected them, but a lot more.

So when these honorable men and women stand up and argue for “their side” about what is best or what is not best for the American people, you’ll have to forgive my skepticism. Do they even know anymore? Did they ever?

Much of the debate over the American Rescue Plan has centered on ideals more than realistic concepts about what is needed. There is good — the child tax credit plan promises to, at least for a period, lift millions of children out of poverty. I’m pretty conservative but I don’t think you can put a price tag on attempting to make sure children don’t go hungry.

There is bad — while the plan promises to put a bandage on the economic problems our nation, and particularly this nation’s working class, face, it’s just that — a bandage. Unless some of these programs are formalized into ongoing programs, it’s just a temporary fix. And like every other measure that comes out of Washington D.C., there’s some pork.

Our senators and representatives can argue and debate until they’re blue in the face, they can institute and change rules, they can “win” political battles and position. But, as long as a person can work a 40-hour week and not afford to pay the rent and put food on their table, then something is very wrong with our system. As long as child poverty and hunger are growing and not declining, then they cannot count themselves as successful.

I guess I’m a bit of an idealist. I believe that the best decisions that a leader can make are the ones that respect the two commandments Jesus said were the most important: Loving God and loving others.

I guess part of being an idealist is that you have to have an affinity for James Stewart — the patron saint of all softies, sentimentalists and those who desire a kinder world. As such, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is one of my favorite films. If you’ve not seen it, James Stewart’s Jefferson Smith character ends up leading a one-man filibuster to do the right thing after being appointed to the U.S. Senate and, as a result, busts up the corruption in that body as a result.

During his marathon filibuster, Jefferson Smith utters the following: “Because I wouldn't give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn't have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a — a little lookin' out for the other fella, too ... That's pretty important, all that. It's just the blood and bone and sinew of this democracy that some great men handed down to the human race, that's all.”

Maybe I am just a naive idealist like Jefferson Smith in that I, too, believe that perhaps the underpinning of our system maybe should be that a “little lookin’ out for the other fella” and “everyday kindness” should be part of the decision-making process. Maybe our legislators have forgotten all that in their rise above their fellow Americans.

Part of being an idealist is also to have the believe that nothing is above redemption. Perhaps we just need a few more Jefferson Smiths in Washington or at least a touch of his doe-eyed idealism back in that city.

Because we’re not going to make it far otherwise.