Posted by Patrick McWhortor on October 08, 2015 at 5:05 PM
Last week, politicos in Washington DC were patting themselves on the back for averting a shutdown of the federal government for the second time in two years.
Really? This is what deserves a pat on the back? This is how low we have set the bar?
But wait: if you were disappointed that partisan politics in Washington did not deliver the cliff-hanging drama and high stakes government nail-biting that substitutes for real public policy making in the middle of our republic’s third century, then you can keep your hopes up. The decision to keep the government doors open last week only lasts until December 11.
But you may not even have to wait that long, because a November 5 deadline for raising the federal debt ceiling provides the next opportunity for the masters of political theatre to produce more thrills and chills, as party extremists threaten again to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States.
Why do we, the citizens, tolerate this drama? Why do we accept such a low bar of victory, considering avoidance of catastrophe the best policy outcome possible?
We tolerate this drama because it is the only thing the partisan actors know how to perform. Ever actor in the theatre of budget politics is responding to the incentives baked into our partisan system.
If these actors were to behave like public servants, sit down with the other side, work out differences, and find a compromise to address long-term issues, there would be no drama. But worse than that: those actors could lose their parts in the play.
Because the partisan political system punishes anyone who acts like a public servant. The audition notice only calls for fire and brimstone partisans. And if you act like a public servant, you can be sure that a true partisan will challenge you in the next primary election. And you will probably lose.
So it comes down to the primary election. This is where the drama begins. When 9 percent of the American people are selecting 90 percent of Congress, because of gerrymandered districts and low primary election turnout, it is a clear signal that we need to change the system.
When the best hope we have for a successful day in Washington DC is narrowly avoiding the shutdown of the federal government, then we need to change the system.
That is what drives us at Open Primaries. If we can change the primary election, we can change the incentives. When members of Congress face all the voters, perhaps they begin playing different parts. Perhaps the drama goes away. Perhaps public servants show up.
And when it comes to federal budget policy, we can raise the bar again.