Your World ;
; The public is peeved.
; It’s more than partisan politics.
; How much are voters to blame?
By Tamara Lytle
Last summer’s spectacle of a
debt limit showdown, when the
two parties came to the brink of
the country’s first financial default, left many citizens feeling
their government isn’t working
well. The long-suffering economy, simmering scandals and controversial government bailouts
have added to the frustration.
And before Christmas, Congress must either pass $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in deficit
reductions or face automatic
spending cuts and a possible backlash from credit markets
fed up with a lack of progress on the nation’s fiscal problems.
“The system is broken,” says David Gergen, an adviser to
presidents from Nixon to Clinton and director of the Center
for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Gov-
ernment. “You’d have to be blind not to see dysfunction in
government. And if you’re blind, you’d hear about it.”
Of course, some people like their government dysfunctional if
it means fewer laws being passed, points out Karen Hult, pro-
fessor of political science at Vir-
ginia Tech: “Dysfunction may
be in the eyes of the observer.”
So what’s putting the “dys” in
dysfunction? Here are five culprits: polarization, a permanent
campaign cycle, a disengaged
citizenry, the original design of
the federal government, and
Polarization This is where
the air conditioning comes in.
As its use spread, many retirees
headed south, and the political makeup of the region became
more conservative, making the South more homogeneously Republican and tilting parts of the urban Midwest and
Northeast more Democratic. As those demographic changes
have shaken out, the regions and the political parties have
become less diverse ideologically, says Norm Ornstein, a
scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, especially as
they have been exhorted by batteries of ideological cable and
Should we blame the bombastic cable news hosts, air conditioning, or maybe Thomas Jefferson? Americans are frustrated with what they see as dysfunction in Washington. So
frustrated that the tea party and Occupy Wall Street movements have sprung up from opposite ends of the political spectrum to voice public anger at the federal government.
Illustrations By Ross MacDonald