Sunday, August 07, 2011

Michael Cohen (GuardianUK): "The dysfunction that lies at the very heart of American politics"

Michael Cohen (GuardianUK):
This clash over the proper role for government in the US is one that has defined our national politics for more than a century. But in the last several years this conflict has become an existential one, with Republicans basically abdicating their responsibility to govern. When in power they made little effort to deal with the nation's many challenges. In opposition, and particularly in the two and a half years since Obama took office, they have used the tool of the Senate filibuster and various other procedural impediments to try to stop nearly all Democratic initiatives in their tracks. Whatever legislation passed in the past few years is almost solely a product of Democratic cohesion (an attribute that is generally in short supply) – and a brief window in which Democrats enjoyed a filibuster-proof majority in the US Senate.
Why do voters put up with such a situation? Polling suggests that the electorate wants their leaders to focus on jobs, rather than the deficit; and work toward compromise, rather than gridlock. So why then do they reward political parties, such as the Republicans, that act decidedly against not only their preferences but also their interests?

The answer lies in the apathy of the American people toward their own government. The ultimate check on Republican nihilism would be voter revolt. But in the last congressional election, voters rewarded unprecedented Republican obstructionism with control of the House of Representatives.
One problem is that Americans have been so inundated with anti-government rhetoric over the past 40 years they seem to have trouble identifying any link between government engagement and a robust economy.

Worst of all, Americans may prefer Democratic policies, but they have little confidence in government's ability to fulfil those promises and then blame both parties for inaction. They are so mistrustful of government and shockingly uninformed about its working that, perversely, via the ballot boxes, they directly contribute to the political stalemate they so regularly decry.

The result is a political system that is perhaps more incapacitated than at any point in modern history. MORE...

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