When House Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa calls White House spokesman Jay Carney a “paid liar,” is he really just saying that Carney is a committed Democrat. Political science research has shown for decades that political partisans see the world through highly shaded lenses, and can’t even agree on basic facts, as a recent Washington Post blog article noted.
A 1988 American National Election Studies survey showed that more than 50 percent of people who identified themselves as strong Democrats believed inflation had become somewhat or substantially worse during President Reagan’s tenure. In fact, inflation fell from 13.5 percent to 4.1 percent under Reagan’s leadership. Princeton Professor Larry Bartels noted that, “Democrats were strikingly impervious to the good economic news” in his review of that study. Republicans don’t handle facts any better. Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth and Jason Reifler of Georgia State found that Republicans presented with news articles pointing out that there were no WMDs in Iraq were more likely to say that such weapons were found than Republicans who didn’t read those articles. The truth, in other words, triggered a partisan backlash of their view of the facts, as the Post story noted.
It gets worse. Continue reading
News that a bipartisan U.S. Senate group has agreed on immigration reform principles gives hope to the idea that problem solving in Washington could push partisanship to a temporary political pasture.
Our deeply flawed political process will turn any such grazing grasses bitter soon enough, though, even if an agreement is reached and a significant issue is temporarily addressed.
Four political system flaws are the biggest impediments to solution-oriented government:
- Money, and
The continuing Fiscal Cliff saga again makes clear that our political system is fundamentally broke. Chapter 29 of Melting Point 2040 tackles the need for fundamental political reform, which character Professor Stark helps lead into implementation a generation from now. The following comment is from the summer of 2040, but the issues are real today:
“Prior to these reforms, lengthy political campaigns were so costly that elected officials held fundraisers for their next campaign almost two months before taking office for the race just won. The most aggressive politicians started even sooner, not letting even a weekend pass after an election before imploring for more cash.
“In the past, real policy debates rarely survived the first 90 days of a new term. Even in those first months, congressional leaders focused on framing debates to create issues aimed at winning seats in the next election cycle. Continue reading
In the midst of the worst economic recovery in U.S. history, voters selected status quo as the way to move forward. That means that we will again have divided government in Washington, D.C. Generally, I prefer divided government. In Illinois, we see the traumatic damage that can be done when one party has total control of all branches of government (and in fact, one man has most of that control), but lacks the willingness to make hard choices to keep the State healthy. So I don’t quibble with the concept of divided government. I am concerned, though, that the people we sent back to Washington are largely the ones who were there during one of the most partisan and ineffective sessions of Congress in recent memory. It is my true hope that our elected officials in the White House, Senate and House will not interpret reelection as a mandate to continue to bicker, but instead to focus on solving the very real problems in America. Perhaps we will find a way to more productively distribute the $20K per person that the Cato Institute says we spend on poverty programs at the federal and state level (yes, that’s $60K a year for a family of three). I hope we will keep the good parts of President Obama’s health reform and rethink whether we really should spend $10s of billions more on health care bureaucracy. Regardless of what Washington works on, I hope those in charge spend more time solving real problems than preparing 2014 electoral strategy. We’re past deserving it. We’re at the point we need it.
As the author of an upcoming book, Melting Point 2040, I write stories about how our world could look in 2040 if we don’t solve our toughest issues. Having worked in Congress two decades ago, and then with Congress from the outside in many of the intervening years, I have become increasingly concerned that our political system is stacked against everyday Americans. Campaigns are too long. Money is too prevalent. Perhaps most importantly, the primary structure in most states forces candidates to adhere to political extremes to even get on the November ballot. There was a time when statesmen and stateswomen played key roles in policy decision-making. That time has passed. So, if I dwell on political system reform in this blog, it’s because I think systematic changes are a precursor to fixing many of these other issues.