On Thursday, I was astonished to see someone argue that the gridlock and hopeless partisanship we see in Washington are just phenomenalized by the news, and that our politicians 'really do' work together.
This is, of course, vastly different than what we usually perceive our government to be doing -- between the budget shutdowns, refusal to hear SCOTUS nominations, and the sheer number of bills dying from lack of cloture -- we have gridlock. But just how bad is it?
- In the first six months of 2015, 33 filibuster attempts were led to block legislation, with just under half were successful;
- During the same time, the Senate only managed to get 6 of its own bills to the president's desk for signature, and only 30 got through their chamber (a record low since the 1930s);
- The House was a bit more productive, passing 166 bills, but only 21 became law.
All in all, it's been pretty grim in Washington.
To be fair, gridlock is not all bad. "That government is best which governs least," is as true today as when Thoreau wrote it in Civil Disobedience. A slow, cumbersome government that doesn't get a lot done can often be the best recipe for government, though there are often too many issues that need addressed for government to hide behind partisan gridlock indefinitely.
America is currently divided on many ideological and cultural lines: the Red/Blue divide, the Urban/Rural divide, Religious divides (i.e. the so-called War on Christianity), and a culture that is rapidly becoming a "non-majority" culture.
Even within the political parties there have been growing pains -- a bit more apparent in the Republican Party, but the Democrats are facing some troubles as well. The anti-establishment movement in the GOP may cause a fundamental split in what it means to be a conservative after the 2016 election.
Likewise, the liberal voice of the Democratic Party, refusing to go unheard, is demanding that the party cater to their liberal agenda, rather than play it safe during an election year.
In short, we don't have gridlock just in Congress; the parties themselves are hopelessly stuck in redefining their identities, and no one seems quite happy about the outcomes.
My personal take on the 2016 presidential election is that it's going to be a 'placeholder' election. Gridlock will prevail, the parties will be battered from the hostile races, and they will spend then next 4 years figuring out their platforms for the 2020 election. 2020 will probably be vastly different than 2016 -- the fundamental nature of both parties is likely to be substantially different.
With the Democrats likely to retake the Senate, this only makes the potential for rampant partisanship worse, with Republicans using the cloture feature as the weapon for the term.
It won't be all bad, most of the federal judges approved will have to be universally liked moderates, as neither party will have enough of an edge to get a party-line judge through the nomination process.
Either way, I think we need to sit tight and be prepared for another 4 years of solid gridlock, and start thinking towards 2020 to advance the independent agenda.