It is hard to imagine how Washington D.C. could be more dysfunctional that it is right now.
As I’m writing, Republicans and Democrats are digging in, insisting they are right and the other side is wrong. Meanwhile, most Americas are losing interest in the partisan political argument and strategizing; they care more about whether the trains will run on time.
The whole situation reminds me of a scene from a Broadway play, “Into the Woods.” The play combines several fairy tale stories into one musical. Things go horribly wrong with the wife of the slain giant — from the “Jack and the Bean Stalk” storyline — she climbs down another bean stalk and seeks revenge on those who killed her husband. The characters turn on one another in a song called “Your Fault.” Jack, Little Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella all chase one other around the stage screaming, “You’re responsible! You’re the one to blame! It’s your fault!”
Those characters are the modern-day equivalent of Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and President Barrack Obama.
Sorting out facts from spin is impossible, but the basic problem stems from the inability of either side to give an inch. All firmly believe they have the moral high ground and therefore are unwilling to budge.
Part of the problem is most members of Congress do not have to worry about a general election opponent. Safely drawn into either reliably red or blue districts, winning in November is not a concern. Rather, the fear is a primary opponent in May.
Republicans who appear moderate fear a tea party-backed primary opponent while Democrats who stray from their liberal base can be rewarded with an opponent from the left.
Former Sen. Blanche Lincoln discovered that when she broke with the unions on card check legislation they supported. The unions poured millions into former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s Senate campaign in 2010. She survived May and a runoff in June but left the primary season wounded, then was beaten soundly in the general election.
Likewise, Rep. Rick Crawford stirred the tea party groups twice by even suggesting a compromise on a proposal to raise taxes on those with incomes over a million dollars in exchange for a vote on the balanced budget amendment. He also had conservative groups attacking him for supporting a farm bill that included funds for the federal food stamp program, even at a reduced level. It is doubtful a primary opponent will actually materialize, but that is yet to be determined.
Former congressman and current gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross expressed frustrations with hard party-line politics when he decided not to seek re-election to Congress and made a brief exit from politics in 2012.
“When I got to Congress 12 years ago, there were more people in the middle that understood that governing means compromise and working together. When I got to Congress 12 years ago, we actually created policy in odd years and played politics in even years,” Ross told the Arkansas News Bureau last year. “Now it seems like the political game is never ending. As soon as one election is over, it’s all about the next election and who is going to control Congress, and it all comes down to about 75 districts and who is going to determine who is going to control Congress.”
And things have only gotten worse. The one bright note is that the more Washington D.C. continues its dysfunction, the more I appreciate the state elected officials in Little Rock. Of course, there are partisan fights at the state level, but at the end of the day the two sides seem to be able to come up with some sort of compromise.
Here is hoping the dysfunction stays in Washington and does not spread to Arkansas
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com