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Why The Government Broke

The story of the congressional crisis is rooted back years, and to understand it, we must know why.

FIRST: Partisanship rose since the “Southern Strategy”. Where democrats included southern conservatives and republicans northern moderates, creating space for bipartisan crossover, the two parties now are almost ideologically sound. Republicans are more so than democrats; consider democrats from Arkansas and Montana who voted against gun control this year.

SECOND: Gerrymandered districts. No, democrats would not win the House in 2012 if districts were fairly drawn after the census (they weren’t). But by turning relatively safe districts into extremely safe districts (something that happened to both parties; see Illinois for democrats and Pennsylvania for republicans), incumbents only have to respond to extremist primary challengers to win re-election. Primary voters do not like compromise.

THIRD: The rise of procedural tricks. Since the Fiscal Cliff last winter, Speaker Boehner has faced credible votes against his speakership, forcing him to rigidly enforce the fake “Hastert Rule“, making anything passing through the House have a majority of republican (read: no democratic) votes. In the Senate, the equally silly “Filibuster”, requiring 60 votes to pass has become standard on controversial legislation for about the past decade. Yes, democrats used it against President Bush, but not nearly to the extent, nor unmasked cynicism of republicans against Obama. As UM’s Professor Kroger notes, in effect, Congress has “added a new veto point in American politics… a huge change of constitutional priorities”

FOURTH: Dealmaking is impossible. After John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign against pork-barrel spending as the cause of all evil (remember the Bridge to Nowhere?), and Obamacare passed “in secret backroom deals“, republicans decided to get rid of these things. Problem is that they’re useful. Pork spending helped congressmen win home voters and whitewashed dangerous votes. Secret negotiations insulated talks from partisan extremists. That’s why the Founders did it. But now, every time a high-level aide gets upset, emails are leaked and trust is burned. As a result, top congressional democrats and republicans aren’t talking in a national political crisis.

FIFTH: Money in politics. Much greater activism from nonparty groups, especially for republicans, increasingly isn’t just  used for elections. It’s also organizing on specific votes. For example, here’s the story of the republican strategists who planned out the shutdown without moderate party input back in January.

SIXTH: The media. Blogs. Ideological Cable. Radio. Not only does this create epistemic closure that shields thinkers from opposing opinions, or increasingly to republicans, facts, it also generates audiences by showcasing party extremes. Sometimes, as with Senator Ted Cruz’s shutdown-causing speech, these voices lack political strategy and force unstable negotiating positions.

Thus the two parties had to fight over Obamacare and debt, relying on new tactics that destroyed compromise, strategy, and governing. Honestly, it’s mostly republican fault, although democrats never saw this coming nor prepared when in power. Now, they’re trying to end gridlock in a tactical fight that won’t reverse these trends, but will hopefully improve the functionality of government.


Links I’m Reading:

Domestic Politics

“Everybody on the left thinks business controls the Republican Party. I’ve startled a few people by saying that we should be so lucky! Mainstream businesses don’t want a government shutdown or a default. I think some of those business forces are waking up and realizing they’ve spent a lot of money on folks they don’t have much influence with…What’s happening here is unprecedented since the civil war. I’m not saying there’ve never been closures before. I don’t think we’ve seen a major party since 1860 threaten to shut down the entire government if they can’t overturn a presidential election.”–Theda Skocpol and Ezra Klein in Wonkblog

International Affairs

Malala Yousafzai, interviewed by Jon Stewart.

Economics and Public Policy

“The U.S. Treasury has the means to avoid a debt default even if Congress fails to raise the government’s $16.7 trillion borrowing limit. The bad news is that it can’t prevent a recession.”–Rich Miller and Shobhana Chandra in Businessweek

South Florida

“Five years ago, Florida officials announced a deal many believed would … buy nearly 300 square miles of Everglades land owned by U.S. Sugar. But then, reality set in: The economy worsened and political opposition grew, forcing state officials to settle for a much smaller parcel.”–Greg Allen in NPR

On Campus

“Seantrel Henderson came to the Miami Hurricanes as one of the most celebrated and heavily recruited offensive tackles. In Sunday’s game against Georgia Tech, Henderson sat out the game — yet again — for unspecified team rules violations, and it looked like the Canes hardly missed him. His college career has been cursed by both cosmically bad luck and habitually bad behavior. Now in his senior year, Henderson has had one of the saddest football careers in UM history.”–Kyle Munzenrider in The Miami New Times

October 10, 2013


Patrick Quinlan

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