When was the last time you made a joke about elected officials doing almost nothing productive in Washington? Congressional approval ratings are garbage, especially since the fall 2013 government shutdown. The United States Congress and their work with The White House is hardly united, and it’s hardly work. We’ve reached a place in America, the land of opportunity, where gridlock has supplanted progress in the halls of Congress; where we are more surprised by bipartisan legislation than we are by so-called representatives who actually do what they were elected to do. For many of us, it seems like memories of the O’Neill/Reagan partnership is but a memory, a far-fetched dream that will never again come to fruition.
Washington, D.C. and its political atmosphere is the most rigid environment I can think of. It’s not because of the individuals that work there. The cause of this gridlock runs far deeper than that. Unfortunately, the cause of Washington’s crippling inefficiency is completely structural in nature – the party system. These politicians are bound so tightly by their party platforms that they can’t vote in a manner that actually REPRESENTS their constituency. The average American of voting age does not identify completely with every point of one political party. It’s so incredibly difficult to get elected and reelected if you’re a Republican who supports the right of homosexuals to get married, or a Democrat who opposes those same rights. It’s hard to get elected and reelected because if you haven’t jumped through the hoops of whichever party umbrella you run under, you don’t have access to the big money and powerful connections needed to even alert the electorate that you are running. It’s so unfortunate, this real life example of Steven Lukes’ principle of second degree power, that the real representatives of American citizens are squished out before they even have a chance to convince their potential constituents that they could represent them more efficiently than the Harry Reid’s or Mitch McConnell’s of the world. The obstacles to true progress are not these politicians at the core of their beings, but rather who are system has made them to be.
Granted, on a different side of the same token, we would like to think that the people we elect would act and legislate in a manner that is above reproach. We have higher expectations for them than we do for ourselves. Whether we should or not is up for discussion, but that’s the situation we’re in as American voters. If these people are supposed to be the best out of all of us, then they should certainly vote and govern in a way that reflects their constituencies. I think we can probably all agree that that doesn’t happen more often than it does. Political congestion has less to do with 538 individuals who somehow continue to get lucky at the ballot boxes than it does with the inherent structural inequality of the American political system.