Among many – many – other things, I wish political commentators would stop explaining away our near-constant legislative gridlock as some inevitable, quasi-mystical part of the democratic process. For instance, here’s Peter Suderman (guest-posting for Andrew Sullivan) describing the “problem with politics”:
No, I don’t think this is a failure of leadership so much as a feature of democratic politics — and a reminder of how unpleasant and unsatisfying to nearly everyone the business of politics can be.
Democratic politics is a messy business. It’s disorganized and frantic and unpredictable and frustrating. Politics is a matter of shouting, and dissent, and deal-making, and strategy, and slippery rhetoric, and compromise. It is not a matter of deciding on the “right” policy and then making it so — even when your party controls the White House, the House, and the Senate.
It’s not that people enjoy this; in fact, it seems to turn a lot of people off. As Robert Putnam wrote, “Most men are not political animals. The world of public affairs is not their world. It is alien to them — possibly benevolent, more probably threatening, but nearly always alien.” But to a large extent, the spasms and outbursts and irritations that come with the political process are inevitable — no matter who’s in charge, no matter what the polls and pundits and politicians say.
I am completely on board with the observation that democratic politics is a messy, unpleasant affair. But I’m not so sold on the implication Suderman’s post, which is that the current legislative gridlock is an unfortunate, but fundamentally acceptable, part of the democratic process. It isn’t acceptable, and more importantly, it isn’t inevitable. At its heart, the problem facing health care reform – and really, the problem facing any substantive change in domestic policy – is institutional. Congress is simply ill-equipped to deal with large, complex problems, a rule that goes double for anything requiring substantive changes to the status quo. That’s not to say that a few tweaks will suddenly turn Congress into a paragon of effective legislating – of course it won’t – but it is entirely within our power to make Congress a more effective vehicle for pursuing and implementing good public policy. And we need to begin by abandoning this absurd notion that there is something noble about having a deeply unresponsive and counter-majoritarian legislative branch.