Monday, September 26, 2016

AMERICA POLITICS 2016- Going Insane?

"Is this ‘syndrome' causing American political dysfunction?" PBS NewsHour 9/19/2016


SUMMARY:  Has our political system gone crazy?  Jonathan Rauch thinks so.  In a recent piece for the Atlantic, Rauch explores what he calls “chaos syndrome” in Washington: government stagnation, he argues, is resulting from politicians' inability to compromise, combined with constant calls for transparency.  Judy Woodruff speaks with Rauch about the history of American politics and where they stand today.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Almost everyone agrees American politics has become more chaotic in recent years, that it's changed, and not always for the better.

Scholar Jonathan Rauch has a theory about why, and he shares it in a recent article for “The Atlantic” magazine.

JONATHAN RAUCH, The Atlantic:  The article is about what I call “chaos syndrome.”

And that is the steady decline in the ability of the political systems to organize itself whether in campaigns, or in government.  People think that politics just somehow magically organizes itself.  It doesn't work that way.  You need to assemble these huge coalitions of 535 politicians on Capitol Hill, and tens of thousands of interest groups, and tens of millions of voters, and assemble all those in government to get stuff done.

That requires a lot of middlemen and a lot of people in between doing a lot of bargaining and negotiation.  You cut those people out, you get chaos.

What we have done over the last 40 or 50 years is systematically attacked and weakened the parties, the political machines, the professionals, and insiders, and hacks, and all the tools that they use to get politicians to play well together.  And with those gone, you get chaos.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  What was it that worked, about what you see as the kind of ideal or close-to-ideal political system in this country?

JONATHAN RAUCH:  Starting in, really, the very beginning of the republic, we began building parties with political machines and hierarchies and things like seniority systems on Capitol Hill.

So, there were people to call when you had to get stuff done.  And if Judy needed Jonathan to vote on a bill in Congress to keep the government open or raise the debt limit or do something for the team, Judy could call me up and say, you know, if you do that, you're going to get money for your campaign, you're going to have an easy reelection campaign, you're going to get that extra runway for the airport in your district, we're going to be able to make this deal behind closed doors.

You could do all that stuff.  Virtually all of that stuff now is difficult or impossible.  And all you can do is beg me, and I say, why should I do any of that?  It's just going to get me in trouble in my district.

Here we are.
JUDY WOODRUFF:  President Obama’s crowning legislative achievement came early in his first term, in 2010.  Soon after, Democrats lost their majority in the House.  Then, in 2011, the President attempted to negotiate the so-called grand bargain budget bill with Republican House Speaker John Boehner.  This time, the results were different.

JONATHAN RAUCH:  We were really this close to a very good budget deal in which both parties, and conservatives, and liberals, were all going to give something, and we would have substantially reduced long-term deficits, reduced entitlement spending, raised taxes some, the kind of package that ultimately pretty much everyone agrees we’re going to have to do in order to solve our long-term fiscal problems.

The speaker of the House, John Boehner, wanted to do it, but he could not get his own caucus organized enough to back him up on it.  And that’s when I realized that the groups of obstructionists were now able to basically hold the system to ransom.

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