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Where has our Country gone?

I am so frustrated by what has been going on in Washington over the past several months that I can’t see straight.  Politicians, both Republicans and Democrats, are all trying to place blame rather than trying to solve the problems of the country.  Remember the McCain Presidential campaign slogan:  “Country First”.  It had a hollow ring for McCain and that hollow ring has now enveloped all of Washington.

I get a daily email from the non-partisan group No Labels.  No Labels is one group in Washington championing solutions.  They were the force behind the No Budget-No Pay legislation passed last month that states Congress will not be paid until they pass a budget.  Yesterday’s email gave descriptions of several stories of partisan bickering from the day before.

These sorts of stories are a steady drumbeat, and yet nothing seems to happen.  Congress continues its leisurely schedule, working three days a week, taking frequent breaks, generally doing little more than giving members the chance to gain air time on the network and cable talk shows.

The very worst part of this debacle is that the answer to our deficit problem is known.  It was developed by the bi-partisan Simpson-Bowles Commission three years ago.  It involves both spending cuts and tax increases.  It addresses the central problem of the growth in Medicare spending as the Baby Boomers retire.  It has a fair balance between cuts and revenue increases.  It has been endorsed, more or less, by most “experts”. 

Why are our Senators, Congressmen, and even the President giving us largely small-minded partisan rhetoric?  Some are posturing. A few, unfortunately, may not be bright enough to understand.  Others are simply too ideologically driven to accept the Simpson-Bowles solution.  Many of this uber-partisan group are Republicans, and unfortunately for us, they control the House.

Why do they control the House?  Because thirty years of continued gerrymandering of electoral districts to make them ever more “safe” has meant that many Republican Congressmen have much more to fear from a far-right primary challenger than they do from a Democrat.  Thus, in a weird way, it makes sense that many Republicans have no interest in a reasonable deficit plan  because it makes them vulnerable for re-election. In their little world, they are doing what is best for their constituents – who cares about what is right for our country?

We have done this to ourselves.  We have managed to take an unwieldy political system that was functional and, with gerrymandering, reduced it to a level of dysfunction in which even the obvious solutions are impossible.

Winston Churchill, who famously said Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others may be reassessing his judgment- even from the afterlife.

We got ourselves in this mess. We rebalance our system, but it is likely to take a long time.  California and a few other states have had the guts to mandate redistricting by independent commission, not by the party in power.  California and Washington state also have adopted an open primary approach in which candidates of both parties (and independents) are on one primary ballot.  The two top vote getters, regardless of party, face off in the general election.  Many think this kind of primary will favor moderates who can appeal across party lines.  Certainly initiatives like congressional districts drawn in a more balanced way and the open primary should help, over time, bring our Country back into a moderate dialogue and common national interests.  One hopes.

Even if successful, bringing back a functioning democracy is a long way away. Meanwhile we will lurch from crisis to crisis, barely holding our national governance structure together.  It is not pretty to watch and scary to think how much more dysfunction and crisis we will have to endure.

Welcome to American Democracy 2013.