From Capitol Hill to the White House, this country’s government is more dysfunctional than at any time since the Civil War. If you agree with that statement, you are among a solid majority of Americans who, polls show, are dismayed by the inability of those they elected to cope with major issues, no matter how threatening they are to the economy.
While there is an expectation among veteran Washington observers that the current debt crisis will be met once again with a last-minute temporary solution, there seems little doubt that the debt crisis can only be resolved for the long term by some drastic action from the electorate — like voting against every incumbent for Congress and the president in next year’s election.
That, of course, isn’t going to happen. But in a perfect world, a resounding message like that should be sent to those officials who see their only goal as maintaining their office. The current president doesn’t seem to be able to lead and the current Congress is an ideological nightmare.
The image this country is presenting to the rest of the world is simple: fiscal irresponsibility perpetuated by nitwits on both sides of the political aisle. Would you invest in such a nation? Well, many other nations and untold millions of Americans have, and they now face the trauma of a default. Sure, there is enough money to pay the interest on those loans for a time, but a prolonged failure to raise the debt limit would mean missed Social Security payments and the loss of basic services for many.
Culprits are everywhere in this drama. House Speaker John Boehner seems almost to be held hostage by the new Republican members. An upstart GOP majority leader from Virginia, Eric Cantor, is pulling most of the strings in his party and clearly looking for the next step up. Democrats in the Senate led by Harry Reid of Nevada aren’t much better.
Down at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Barack Obama waited too long to act like a leader, spending much of his time hatching expensive new plans such as health care reform and leaving it up to someone else to sir the porridge. Every time things went wrong, he blamed his predecessor for the mess, failing to understand that his own name is now stamped on this crisis and anything else happening between now and the next election. That includes a slow-growth economy and joblessness that doesn’t want to budge.
Inside the Washington Beltway, it is not difficult for people to believe they are in a madhouse, with every day’s headlines bringing new examples of bellicosity that shreds the art of compromise as never before. It might be imagined that some small accommodations among the warring political factions could stave off the wolves at the door of this democracy. But even that seems unlikely.
Divided government once seemed more desirable in some respects than a solid majority. But that is only possible if both halves of the split can, on occasion, come together rationally. That hasn’t been the case here. Consider throwing the rascals out — all of them.
Dan K. Thomasson is a former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.