Is the System Broken?
Did the debt ceiling debate reveal dysfunctional government?
The headline question arises from a McClatchy story via the Miami Herald: Don’t pop any champagne corks: Debt deal shows broken system.
In fairness, the headline of the piece does not entirely comport with the contents of the piece,which focuses far more on the political dynamics of the moment, rather than the question of where the system is broken (this is not unusual, as the authors of newspaper stories do not write the headlines*).
The main point of the linked piece can be summed up as follows:
the spectacle that was Washington over the last month is more about the great chasm between the two major parties than about the performance of Obama, Boehner or individual members.
“The parties are as far apart as they’ve been since reconstruction,” said Edwards at Texas A&M. “There are very few people in the middle. It’s very hard to compromise. And there are personal animosities. The Republican Party, for example, is more Ann Coulter than Ronald Reagan. It is very much harder.”
I would add: the entire situation is complicated by the fact that the House GOP at the moment is functioning more like a coalition than a unified political party. The Tea Party faction has a near-veto on what the caucus does, meaning that Boehner has to appease them. This makes legislating all the more difficult and blunts the traditional power of being in the majority in the House.
To the question of whether the system is broken, as I think a lot of people are going to make this claim this week, the answer to the question is: no, the system is not broken. Legislating is still possible.** Even if the deal fails, this does not mean that the system it broken, although such an outcome may raise questions of the intelligence/sanity of our legislators.
While there are a number of reforms that I would like to see to our political institution,*** we cannot claim that the system does not function. True breakdown would manifest in various ways, such as actors failing to engage in negotiations or simply refusing to vote, or by actors doing things that was clearly in violation of the constitution. None of these things are happening. In fact the machine of government has been in furious motion for days.
Indeed, rather than the system being broken, we are seeing bicameralism and separation of powers in action.
BTW: such observations are not an endorsement of the way things have played out, nor is it to be construed as any specific reaction to the deal. Rather, I would note that many who will claim that the system is “broken” will do so because they do not like the outcome. Yet, dissatisfaction with outcomes is not proof of dysfunction.
Rather, as per the McClatchy story cited above, and the excerpted portion in particular: the issue at the moment is based in politics and the conflict between (and within) the parties. And that conflict is a reflection of variety of factors, including confusion in the public over what it really wants from government, as well as conflicts between various large interests in our society who know exactly what they want.
*I can personally attest to this fact. I have written dozens of pieces for the Mobile Press-Register and the Birmingham News and think maybe once did the editor use my suggested title for the piece. And several times the headline chosen did not reflect my goals for the column.
**Granted, at the moment, the compromise has yet to pass Congress.
***Most of which are fantasies, such as changing our electoral system, so I won’t engage in that discussion at the moment.