Sunday, February 21, 2010

When government goes kaput

Government is broken, say the American people, according to a new CNN poll:

Eighty-six percent of people questioned in the poll say that our system of government is broken, with 14 percent saying no. Of that 86 percent, 81 percent say that the government can be fixed, with 5 percent saying it's beyond repair.

This is higher than it was just a couple of years ago.

But... is it? Is government really broken?

Let's not overlook the fact that much of public perception at the moment is driven by seriously negative economic considerations, with the economy still struggling, unemployment still a problem, and uncertainty very high.

Much of it, too, is driven by the ugliness of the legislative process -- sausage-making, as they say.

The "widespread frustration," as Steve Benen calls it, is understandable. The abject failings of the process in Washington -- on health-care reform, for example -- really do seem to amount to "a national scandal, which directly undermines our strength as a country."

But I think Steve is right that much of the frustration can be traced directly to the obstructionism-at-all-costs of the Republican opposition, and that it is imperative that Democrats break through that barrier:

[I]f those who feel that the government is broken don't know and/or understand why, the palpable aggravation is of no value. The key is for Americans -- who neither know nor care about things like "filibusters," "cloture votes," and "holds" -- to appreciate the role congressional Republicans have played in shutting down the American system of government. It's a disgrace that regular folks seem wholly unaware of.

It's also a reminder to policymakers that, while some of the frustration may be ideological, much of it is also the result of the public growing impatient, waiting for progress that isn't happening...

When folks perceive their government as "broken," I suspect it's because of what the president identified -- a perception that policymakers simply can't solve obvious problems in need of solutions.

It speaks to the need for Senate Democrats to do whatever it takes -- reconciliation, nuclear option, anything -- to get the legislative process moving again.

In other words, Democrats, don't let the poll numbers scare you off, and don't equate the public's frustration with firm opposition to your agenda.

It's simple. Actually getting stuff done -- and, with your large majorities, stuff can get done despite persistent Republican obstructionism -- will show that government isn't broken.

Take health-care reform, the specifics of which remain popular. Ultimately, you'd reap the political benefit of enacting change and breaking the perceived paralysis in Washington. Not to mention that it's the right thing to do.

So, yes, government is "broken," in a sense. But some courage and conviction on the part of Democrats, who in '06 and '08 were entrusted with power at both ends of Pennsylvania Ave., would prove that the problem is fixable, or at least that it can be overcome, and that government can still address the very real problems facing Americans with assertive, responsible action.

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