Fixing the Gridlock

The Founding Fathers called for the subordination of narrow interests to the general welfare of the community, believing that politics were not meant to be competitive but rational and collaborative.

Despite the idealism in which the United States of America grew upon, the standoff over the debt crisis illustrates the structural changes that have led to political polarization.  Ideology has always been a part of politics, creating a basis for healthy debate, but over the past 4 decades the structure of politics has evolved with society leaving it beholden to narrow and specialized interests, including an increase of ideological extremism.  The Founding Fathers had seen the fractional effects of political parties and its possible erosion of public interests, but the extremism in which society has now been confronted with did not present itself until 40 years ago.  However, if politics were able to evolve according through time, then change can be brought to the current political system, shining light on a better tomorrow.

Four decades ago, the rules and organizing framework of politics made it easier for a collaborative effort among parties.   True there was a common enemy, Soviet Russia and Socialism, modern society has once again been presented with an enemy: political polarization and government shutdown.  Oft has this been repeated but as Clinton exhibited in his 1996 Convention speech, “build a bridge to the 21st century”, repetition of a clear message will be understood and absorbed.

So saying, polarization has been fueled by media, redistricting, and transparency.  With the publicity of CSPAN, politicians have created drafts of preemptive speeches to announce while on the floor, degrading the political process to inflated diction, vanity, and a lack of true listening to propositions.  This element of transparency or “sunshine rules” (a result of the Watergate scandal),  has allowed media to publicize in mass all speeches, statements, scandals, and errors, adding a fear factor to politics. Along with party tensions and this fear factor, politicians have no initiative to advocate for progress, especially if it is coming from the across the aisle.  This comes into direct conflict with the foundations of the political structure of America as the power in the United States is shared by a set of institutions with overlapping authorities; therefore, the parties have to cooperate for anything to be accomplished.  Moreover, the practice of redistricting has created safe seats by narrowing the interests to be aligned with certain parties. For most House members, their only concern or competition will be fellow members of their party.

As time changes, so does society and with it politics.  This has been a chain throughout the history of America and is exemplified by the evolution of politics into polarized groups such as the Tea Party and the Move On Party.  Although society has been alienated by such extremism, the extent to which it has grown was only possible through the ideological extremism and negligence of society itself.  In order for that to change, society must take action as well.  Mickey Edwards, a former House member from Oklahoma, listed a series of structural reforms that would make a noticeable difference for the greater good in an article in Atlantic Magazine.  Ranging from large scale reforms such as truly open primaries and releasing control of redistricting to independent commission to small scale reforms such as filling committee vacancies by lot and staffing committees with professionals, rather than party aisle loyalists.

The government was built based on the premise of representing the people; therefore, the people have the power to change the incentives that have formed such a demonstrably divided and dysfunctional political system.


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