Bad Politics: Is political gridlock in Washington worse than … ever?


2008 Presidential Election by County
learly, this subject is urgent to many Americans right now. On Monday, we had a rise in readership for—even though only a tiny number of the readers who visit ever leave comments.

One perspective is: If you take the time to leave thoughtful comments, which accumulate on our front page, you’ve got a chance to influence thousands of readers. Or from another perspective: Please, join the few and the brave who add their thoughts—because this Web project is all about encouraging civil dialogue.

You shouldn’t have any trouble forming an opinion this week. No question, Americans are buzzing about these questions: How bad is the political gridlock in Washington? Is it worse now than ever before? Or are we simply romanticizing the past?

The political past wasn’t so romantic and partisan politics have been bitter before. But what we’re seeing today is the worst it is has been in modern times, according to political scientists like my colleague Morris Fiorina. As he said in a recent NPR interview, “People who remember the period of the mid-20th century likely remember a time of a lot of cross-party coalitions in Congress,” he says. “But it’s been terrible for a long time.”

Republicans and Democrats really do live in different moral universes. (Scroll down to see yesterday’s post.) And these universes have grown apart over time, making the compromises we saw in the past virtually impossible now—even unthinkable.

Each major political party has become more homogenous over time, Fiorina argues, now representing pure political points of view. This means the centrist—always willing to compromise—is just about extinct, replaced by extreme partisans. For them, compromise is unthinkable.


What this means, I think, is that most American voters face equally unattractive opposite extremes at the polls. These are unattractive in the sense that neither represents the more centrist views of most Americans. The only way to register discontent, however, is to vote one way in one election, the other way in the next

So, voters disenchanted with the Bush years voted for Obama in 2008 and gave him majorities in Congress. Then, unhappy with deficit spending, stimulus packages, and taxes, voters start to swing the other way—witness the election of Senator Scott Brown in “Democratic” Massachusetts. The mid-term elections may see even more swings to the right.

Are you fed up with the political gridlock in Washington?

(NOTE on the U.S. map, above: On Monday, we published a different map that caught readers’ eyes—so, today, we’re showing you a finer-grain look at the political landscape. This is a Wikipedia Commons map showing the 2008 presidential winner by U.S. counties. You can click on the map to enlarge it slightly.)


Print Friendly, PDF & Email