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Congress: obstructing democracy

Updated on June 16, 2012

The Johnny One-Notes of American politics—on both sides of the aisle—are taking their toll.

I get it: Stay on message. Make your point as often as possible; keep it the same and keep your coconspirators—I mean, colleagues-- on message as well. It doesn’t have to be true; if you pound away at it every time you speak, it will be as good as true.

Once upon a time, candidates battled for election and then, once in office, yoked themselves to fellow office-holders, party notwithstanding, for the common good, the good of the people….

"Good” is the operant word.

No more.

Partisan politics has yielded to increasingly polarized partisan politics—partyism if you will. The valuing of party above all else, has wedged the principle of service out of what was once charmingly called public service. Now, and for some time, party is the ultimate, the only consideration.

But in an odd way, the cult of partyism has given rise to excessive egoism. That is, a politician draws the spotlight to himself as one whose every act as a representative of the party is by definition for the good of the party and the country. Understood is “because I say so.” It is the “I” in Party that causes the great rift. And when a few of the egoists band together—as I would suggest is the case with tea party Republicans—they hold the country hostage.

Most distressing is that holding the country hostage is not the worst consequence. The worst consequence is inculcating and nurturing a national malaise.

For Democrats, Republicans can do no good. Each transgression, perceived peccadillo or fabricated transgression is magnified and publicized as widely as humanly possible. It is no different for Republicans thoroughly denouncing Democrat at every opportunity, genuine or manufactured. Independents…well, nobody really cares.

Does it take a political scientist to recognize that constant recriminations and denouncements among elected doomsayers discourage and dismay the general public?

On August 6, 2011, a Washington Times editorial was entitled "Obama’s downgraded America.Not an op-ed, a times editorial. The editorial began:The Obama administration has made history by presiding over the first-ever downgrade in the U.S. credit rating. President Obama has outdone all his predecessors in wrecking America’s good name.”

To the best of my recollection—at this point in time—President Obama was not the only actor in this slow-motion calamity. The members of Congress who refused to compromise, who refused to consider lifting tax breaks for the wealthy that the GW Bush administration inaugurated, played some modest role in the unnecessary crisis that will continue to ripple through not only the United States, but the world at large.

This House divided against itself cannot stand. (That sentence is not entirely original.)

Gleefully predicting a gloomy future and financial doom and working to bring them about is the paradigm of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. The hot air from both antagonistic parties on Capitol Hill is creating the wind. And until civility returns to politics, the United States government will not be of, for, or by the people it is actively harming the electorate by mongering fear and distress.


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      Tim Curtin 6 years ago

      My thoughts exactly. I try always to be wary of characterizations of our politics as "broken", and I tire of hearing people publicly pine for the days when politicians were honest and the country wasn't decaying. But this is the first time I've started to feel alarmed, like that kind of talk is being proven right. This era of politics IS different, and it's poisonous. Is it possible to fix?