Viewpoint: America the Ungovernable


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America The Ungovernable

Three forces have conspired to prevent President Obama from running the country effectively: congressional Republicans, congressional Democrats, and the American people. Obama should confront them in the State of the Union.

PHOTOS
Is Obama Keeping His Promises?

One year in, a look at how the president is doing.

By Michael Cohen | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Jan 25, 2009

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In the week since the special Senate election in Massachusetts, the political conversation has been focused on what it all means: Will the Democrats pass health care? Will the Senate torpedo the renomination of Ben Bernanke for Fed chairman? What should be next on the president’s legislative agenda?

But another, more disturbing, conclusion can be drawn from the Democrats’ sudden reversal of fortune in Massachusetts—a mere year after Obama’s historic victory. Is America simply ungovernable? Are the impediments to governance so great—obstructionist Republicans, spineless Democrats, and an increasingly incoherent electorate—that no one can run the country effectively?

Perhaps the greatest hindrance to good governance today is the Republican Party, which has adopted an agenda of pure nihilism for naked political gain. The most bizarre feature of post-Massachusetts political spin is that President Obama has done a poor job of reaching across the aisle. But any regular observer of Washington would conclude that congressional Republicans have no desire to be reached out to—because they aren’t actually very interested in governing the country.

Take health care. During the 2000s, when the GOP held sway in Washington, they did nothing to arrest rising health-care costs or the uninsured population, which jumped from 39 million to approximately 46 million. Modest proposals to extend government-subsidized care for children were opposed and the extension of Medicare drug benefits did not help the larger health-care system.

Not much has changed in the past year. Congressional Republicans offered no serious counterproposals to the Democrats’ health-care initiative and sought instead to either mislead or simply lie about its key elements (see “death panels“). The GOP’s flagrant use of parliamentary tricks such as filibusters and holds is preventing the filling of critical executive-branch jobs and even delaying legislation that has virtually unanimous support—such as extending unemployment benefits. There is no governing ideology behind these obstructionist tactics except to demonstrate that government is simply unable to operate effectively. So far, mission accomplished.

Across the aisle, things aren’t much better. The Democrats clearly want to govern, but they lack the spine to do it. Passage of universal health care has been a Democratic lodestar for more than 50 years. With difficult votes in the House and Senate to pass a reform proposal, Democrats were on the cusp of a landmark legislative victory. But at the first sign of adversity, Scott Brown’s upset victory in Massachusetts, Democrats didn’t redouble their efforts, they prepared to shelve the bill.

Even if Democrats pass health-care reform, it’s an extraordinary commentary on their lack of confidence. Instead of making their case to voters, the first thought among Democrats was to run for political cover. Such fecklessness raises the question: if Democrats with a huge majority in both houses of Congress and control of the White House can’t pass the centerpiece of their agenda, what can they possibly hope to accomplish? Why should anyone vote for a party that has such little demonstrated faith in their own principles?

But the problem with the two parties is actually a manifestation of the country’s governance woes—as much as a cause of them. Significant blame for Washington’s inadequacy lies outside the Beltway.

Right ON, Michael Cohen!!!

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