When thinking about this government shutdown, a lot of people will be quick to say that it’s obviously all the Republicans’ fault, and perhaps just as many people would say that it’s obviously the Democrats’ fault. Some people aren’t sure which party to blame for it but are certain that Congress (or politicians in general) are to blame for not being able to agree. Clearly there is a problem. The paychecks of government employees are in jeopardy, and government services that some rely on may become unavailable. Everyone can see that this needs to end soon..
I read one comment today that really got me thinking though. It was “Congress really needs to get their act together.” It made me think to myself “Is that it? Or is it that Congress has actually got their act together too well?” It stands to reason that if Congress’s job is to keep the government running, then they must be doing a pretty bad job, right? The extremely low approval ratings of Congress seem to bear this out. But what about those studies that say that while most people have a negative view of Congress, by and large, they still tend to support their own Congressional representatives? One occasionally hears a “throw the bums out” sentiment from frustrated voters who resolve to vote against all incumbents, but for the most part, we re-elect our representatives and point the finger at everyone else in Congress as the problem.
I would like to propose a new idea. It’s not a pleasant one, but I think it may be more accurate: maybe Congress isn’t the problem.
Think about it. We say they’re letting us down and failing to do their job, but really, they’re doing exactly what they were elected to do: vote for the interests of their constituents and refuse to give in to what anyone else wants. We’ve elected a Congress full of people who refuse to compromise, and then we complain when they can’t agree on anything. Maybe Congress isn’t the problem. Maybe we are.
Politics in our country has become so polarizing that the two sides seem to have no room for agreement anymore. Politicians are vilifying and attacking each other as though they’re enemies at war, because they were elected by people who feel the same way. Right?
Well, maybe not. Is it really the case that everyone in the country identifies completely with one political party or the other? Certainly not. Is it the case that many people who vote for one party or another actually disagree with the party’s platform on some issues (or they would, if they actually understood every plank in the platform)? Probably. I’d like to believe that there are still enough people in this country whose views lie somewhere between the far left and the far right that if we could elect more people that represented their views, we could actually have a Congress that could compromise on things and accomplish things from time to time.
It sounds like an awfully pie-in-the-sky idea though. Could it ever happen? We’d certainly need to loosen the grip of our current two political parties on our government. We might even need to introduce new parties closer to the center, perhaps more issue-focused parties that could band together to form coalitions. Some would argue that things have been this way for too long and there’s too many ways in which the current system has evolved to protect itself from any efforts to dismantle it. If that’s the case, I’m afraid of what’s in store for our country as we become even more polarized and the two sides try to legislate each other out of existence. In light of that possibility, I prefer to hope for something better.