Don’t end the year downbeat, I promised myself. It’s a new dawn. And all that stuff. I turned to the book I have been reading “It’s even worse than it looks” by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein.
These gentlemen did not offer me much cheer. Their earlier work had the uplifting title The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get it Back on Track. Their main thesis in both books is that the American Political System is in a near-terminal mess. The brilliant system of checks and balances to preserve individual freedoms has become a means of arriving at lose/lose decisions for the people of America and even for politicians struggling to wrest personal or party gains regardless of longer term consequences.
Mann and Ornstein are political theorists with powerful access to the corridors of power in Washington. It’s ’Even Worse than it Looks” examines the January 2011 congressional struggle which attempted to reach an agreement to deal with the US debt. The brinkmanship revealed the two factors which are believed by the authors to lie at the heart of the matter: Increasingly adversarial stances between democratic and republican politicians, and a system which results in blocking of the proposals by the majority party. Such an argument has a disturbing ring of truth in 2011, and is even predictive of what seems to be arriving in January 2012, now dressed up in terms of a metaphoric Fiscal Cliff.
If this is not a crisis for the American economy what is it? One possibility is that we are witnessing another outbreak of limited leadership vision If so, it has not gone unnoticed by the electorate. As the 2011 infighting continued, a poll cited by Mann and Ornstein showed confidence in politicians had slumped to an all-time low of 9%.
In other words, there is too much posturing posing as leadership. There are still plenty of folk out there convinced that “It’s all their fault”, but that sort of conviction is part of the problem. Mann and Ornstein suggest remedies including increasing the proportion of the electorate participating in politics at the most basic level through voting. They also would address gerrymandering of various kinds, and favour some form of proportional representation. The proposals seem more tentative that those for getting America back on track (their earlier book).
Always look on the bright side
The debate will continue. Some may take comfort in the view that it is all Mickey Mouse politics which will eventually be resolved as damaged global economies gradually become less turbulent. In the meanwhile, in the gloriously ironic strains of a tune and words from Monty Python, we might as well Always look on the bright side of life, de dum, de dum, de dumpty dum, de dum.
And a happy new year to you all out there.
The negotiations went according to plan, if you believe the insider account from Politico.