We are all incredulous spectators to the dismal theatrics playing year after year in Washington D.C., sowing more are more mistrust and disgust in the minds of the American people. But where is the backlash? The public sector of this nation has become an abject failure (in sharp contrast with the private sector, which time and again bails out the global economy, when the rest of the world sputters or regresses). Do we need any proof?
- Any day now our national debt will pass the $18 trillion threshold and be larger than the size of our economy.
- Comprehensive immigration reform remains illusory.
- We have not won a war since World War II.
o Not in Korea
o Not in Vietnam
o Not in Iraq
o Not in Afghanistan
o Not the war on poverty
o Not the war on drugs
o Not the war on terror
- We have done nothing about tax reform.
- We have done nothing to turn back the increase in inequality within our society.
This failure of government is not a partisan phenomenon. Control of the White House and the Congress has not determined success or failure in governance.
Failure can, therefore, not be laid at the doorstep of either the Democrats or the Republicans. It defies logic to assume that the failure of the federal government to address the challenges America is facing is more than marginally the result of incompetence or the malign intent of our elected officials and it makes sense, therefore, to look for the cause of the malaise in the system -- i.e. the complex rules and conditions that define American politics of today.
I evaluate the flaws in the American political system in my recently published book, “NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism.” Alexis de Tocqueville coined the phrase “American Exceptionalism” because he was in awe of the capacity of the American people to govern their affairs during and following the Revolutionary War, which he termed exceptional. He would be sorely disappointed if he were around today to see how things have developed!
The systematic flaws that I see in our governance model and that I address in detail in my book fall into four categories:
- The money influence in politics;
- The two-party system;
- The election system (frequency, term length and limits, financing, districting and primaries); and
- The lack of a national strategic agenda
To effect change in any of these four areas will require a herculean effort. After all, change generally only gets embraced when the pain of living with the status quo exceeds the pain inflicted by change. This explains that while virtually nobody is happy with the status quo, we appear paralyzed to do something about it. The pain caused by the gross under performance of our public sector simply has not crossed the threshold level, but we may be closing in on a tipping point.
The 2014 midterm elections brought about an earthquake-sized shift in power from the Democrats to the Republicans, but it does not appear to have triggered a congressional resolve to start fixing problems. The people seem to have no confidence in the political system, given that only a third of eligible voters went to polling stations in November.It would be a mistake, though, to give up on hope for a turn for the better. The American people have an uncanny capacity to step back from the brink before they allow things to get out of hand. And, as Nelson Mandela said: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
We can only hope that it will not take a national disaster to galvanize our politicians into action, but the likelihood is that it will require some shock to the system to get things off dead center. The most benign, democratic, and American shock to the system could come from the emergence of a centrist third party.
A January 2014 Gallup poll found that 42 percent of the voting eligible population considers itself “Independent” versus 31% Democratic and 25% Republican. For sure these independents represent a wide spectrum of political beliefs, some at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, and maybe only half of them would feel at home in a centrist third party, but a centrist third party could easily draw in moderate Democrats and Republicans.
In fact, the surest way to establish a viable third party would be for these moderates in the existing two parties to take the initiative to abandon their ideologically-entrenched parties, find each other in the middle and create a new party that is dedicated to govern from the center and on the basis of a clear national strategic agenda.
Such a party would then become an attractive draw for many independents. It would probably push the Democrats more to the left (where they want to go anyway) and the Republicans more to the right (where the tea party is guiding them).
The jolt received from such shock to the arrogance, inertia, and complacency of the Democratic and Republican Parties might just be enough to break the logjam and get Washington working again for the people of America. It might just be enough to get our politicians to address the other flaws in the system as well. It might just be what the American political system needs to deliver on its promises.