Where Washington's Paralysis Really Came From - Esquire
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The roots of the polarization that so bothers Brokaw are simple enough to trace. One of our two political parties determined long ago that it would ally itself fully with the forces of bigotry, corporate greed, crackpot economics, retrograde religiosity, and anti-intellectualism on a grand scale. Because of a regrettable apathy on the part of the general citizenry, this party succeeded wildly through that alliance and it has sought, at one level or another, to bring all of those things into the government of the country. (For their part, the Democrats only allied themselves with the corporate-greed part, and not even fully at that.) They have refused to accept the right of two consecutive Democratic presidents to govern the country, and they have not been shy about proclaiming that very thing. This is somewhat unprecedented. It is also, yes, polarizing. It should be. People should be angry that their expressed desire for how the country should be governed continues to be thwarted by a bunch of county commissioners punching above their weight class.
For decades, Washington functioned as the most predictable of company towns. The government worked through a series of unwritten rules and gentleman's agreements. The people out beyond the company town were an afterthought. The real work of governing was done at dinner parties, and over drinks after the day's session of Congress was over. Civility was never the natural order of things in politics, so the people in Washington fell into an elaborate pretense of politics, a kind of mock competition of ideas, sort of like professional wrestling, where the blood is not real and the chairs break apart on contact. Then the money got bigger, and the city grew more isolated, and the pretend politics with the fake blood got further and further removed from their actual consequences, and nobody noticed that Washington was turning into Versailles. That is the lost culture for which Brokaw so yearns today.
But the "polarization" that makes Brokaw so sad didn't happen as some sort of inexplicable political disorder. It was willed into being, a little bit at a time, by a party and a movement that prospered through division and the exploitation of fear and anger. They broke the unwritten rules. They declined to honor the gentleman's agreements. What happened was, simply, that one side decided to stop pretending and begin playing politics as though real power were really at stake, as though the outcomes really mattered.
This year, the Republicans threatened not to raise the country's debt ceiling. That has never happened before. They have made use of the rules of the Senate to frustrate the will of the president, of the Democratic majority and, if polls are to be believed, of the public at large, and they have done so in a way that has never happened before. They have deliberately chosen not to govern. Whatever else you can say about this "polarization," you cannot fairly say that both sides are at fault. What would Brokaw have us do, with his lordly disdain for the grubby viciousness of our politics?
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