A divided government for a divided people

A divided government for a divided people


That government is best which governs least – Thomas Jefferson



And this is especially so in a divided nation such as America.


And I think we can all agree that Congress has done very little of late. It has governed very little. Yet, most seem to think this is a bad thing, even those which might agree with the previous quote.


Congress has an approval rating of 9%. Many politicians and pundits bemoan the lack of progress and point at the bickering and disagreements as signs that it is not ‘working’.


Palin accuses Congress of acting as a single, homogeneous institution, “foment[ing] fear and outrage” in order to “translate it into campaign donations for themselves”. Quite an accusation. She uses words like ‘permanent political class’, ‘the establishment’, and ‘D.C.’ as if it were acting as a homogeneous entity with clear goals and priorities.


Congress is not a daily commute; ‘gridlock’ is not a bad thing. The more regulations and laws passed is not a barometer of success; ‘do-nothing’ is not just an adjective placed before Congress, but, for many, a plea. Congress is not the Army; ‘bickering’ is exactly what should happen.


Yet politicians, pundits, and the people all seem to think that Congress is not doing ‘its’ job. Too much bickering, disagreement, and too little ‘work’.


America has serious problems that need addressing, for sure, and the fact they are not being addressed does lead many to complain that ‘Washington’ is not working, ‘Congress’ is dysfunctional, ‘Politicians’ uncaring and more worried about fundraising than governing.


Yet these reflect the fissures within America’s diverse society, all packed and compressed into a few hundred individuals in two small semi-circular rooms. Is it any surprise they don’t get on? That agreement on so many issues are not forthcoming?


Zakaria laments America, a “can-do country” being “saddled with a do-nothing political process designed for partisan battle rather than problem solving”.


I think it is a good thing Congress disagrees with itself and that very little gets done. Whilst it is obviously preferable for society to not be ideologically riven like it currently is, we must take society as we find it. And the Congress we should all want should be one that reflects the society as closely as possible.


Political stability (disparagingly named gridlock) is the price we pay so that half the nation doesn’t feel too politically disenfranchised, as might occur under a British winner takes all, elected dictatorship, form of government.


Indeed, look how pissed off half the country became when Congress did get things done! Obamacare and Dodd Frank was passed when the Democrats controlled the White House and both branches of Congress (and a very pliant Supreme Court with little regard for the Constitution). If Republicans had similar control, I’m sure they would do things liberals would be up in arms over.


Not only is this gridlock we see merely a reflection of American society, something that should be aimed for in a democracy, but it also promotes consensus. No one government can radically alter course. Instead, over time debate occurs (called bickering by those who display the common human desire for leadership) and this will lead to consensus. And once policy shift occurs, it will be all the better for it.


Those who see the divisions within Congress and the attendant lack of action, always assume that Congress should get busy and enact the laws they want to see. They even full themselves, like Palin does, into thinking it is what the people want.


There is no ‘people’.


I don’t think I’m quite so individualist as to say there are simply many individuals; it might be truer to say that America has several ‘peoples’, all with widely different ideologies and policy preferences. But I do know that America is not a united country.


Thus, Congress is not united either. And take it from a Brit, where we too are becoming less united in our beliefs, it is far better for your government to reflect the fissures within your society than to appear decisive and unified, but to in fact be a government formed from coalitions of different groups comprising a minority of citizens, riding roughshod over the silent majority.


You received a taste of that during Obama’s first term. Why would you want a second helpings?