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August 02, 2011 10:35 AM Dysfunction obscures the more meaningful problem

By Steve Benen

It’s awfully difficult to defend the American political system right now. I suspect if a pollster asked a representative sample, “Do you believe the political process in the United States is effective or badly broken?” the results would be entirely one-sided.

And the respondents would have a point. Political norms that have existed for generations have been thrown out the window. We’re struggling to pay our bills, not because we lack the money, but because political gridlock won’t let us write the checks. Pressing crises like climate change can’t be addressed because our politics won’t let us act. Faced with an unemployment crisis, many of us have given up on policymakers trying to make things better, and are left to hope they won’t make things too much worse.

Our federal courts are a mess because new judges can’t be confirmed. Our Senate is a mess because of procedural abuses with no modern precedent. Our House is a mess because it’s been overrun by mad men. Our executive branch is struggling with a series of hostage strategies, in which the president would rather pay the ransom than watch the country burn.

Given all of this, the conventional wisdom is that the process and the political institutions themselves are a dysfunctional mess, a fear reinforced by the months-long nightmare over the debt ceiling. Jonathan Bernstein makes a compelling argument that the conventional wisdom isn’t paying close enough attention.

For one thing, as of now it appears that everyone successfully managed to get to a deal. The fact that both sides fought hard up to the deadline isn’t really a sign of a flaw in the system; it’s more or less what you would expect.

But I do think there’s something broken, and it isn’t the system: it’s the GOP. The problem isn’t that they’re very conservative. Even a party with policy preferences to the right of Rand Paul could, in theory, manage to bargain with even a very liberal Democratic Party. The problem, rather, is that the GOP’s incentives are skewed. Rather than caring about policy, they appear to care more about symbolism, such as a Balanced Budget Amendment, than about actual policy. Rather than caring about cutting the best deal they can get, they appear to care more about proving their loyalty to the cause (they refused to deal on health care even though so doing might have gotten them more of what they wanted). This requires them to oppose Democratic presidents regardless of what it means in substantive gains or losses.

The result is that Republicans wind up following the lead of hucksters and talk show hosts, even when it leads them to strange places. And that, not anything inherent in Congress even in polarized times, winds up yielding a dysfunctional legislative process.

I’m very much inclined to agree. American politics can be exasperating, a characteristic that’s defined the system since its inception, but it’s still perfectly capable of functioning and problem solving. Indeed, it’s capable of doing great things, even when power is divided between the parties, as has been common, off and on, for several decades.

The institutions, in other words, don’t necessarily have structural flaws. With competent, well-intentioned officials in place, the process can be entirely effective. It’s worked before, and can work again. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with how the United States does its business.

But the system breaks down when one of the parties goes berserk. We’re not in a broken-down car; we’re in a perfectly good car with a crazy person in the passenger seat recklessly grabbing the steering wheel at inopportune times.

To be sure, the parties are supposed to disagree, and there’s nothing wrong with Democrats and Republicans fighting for very different principles and agendas. In some respects, it’s helpful to voters to have sharp distinctions between the parties, better clarifying the directions available to the country, and ideally making the electorate’s choices easier.

When one of two major parties, however, succumbs to madness — say, threatening to crash the global economy on purpose without a multi-trillion-dollar ransom — the basic political norms that oil the political machine becomes impossible.

As Bernstein concluded, “It’s only now, and during the years of unified Republican control, that we are seeing long-time observers complain about a broken Congress or the worst Congress ever. But it’s not Congress that’s broken. It’s the Republican Party.”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Marc on August 02, 2011 10:41 AM:

    This is all true, but giving in to hostage takers only encourages them to do it again.

    I would love to hear your perspective, Steve, on the tough op-ed today by Joe Nocera. I think the tough stance he takes against the Obama administration is absolutely appropriate and necessary at this time.

  • Ten Bears on August 02, 2011 10:43 AM:

    It has long been my observation (and to resounding derision occasional comment) that we are witnessing the End of the Republic Party.

  • zmulls on August 02, 2011 10:47 AM:

    Another factor in the crazification is that the modern Republican party does not acknowledge the legitmacy of the other side, so doesn't have to take their side of the argument into consideration.

    From Clinton ("he's your President, he's not our President") to the birther madness that took over a sizable chunk of the Republican party...they have decided (evidence to the contrary) that the Democrats are socialist/marxist, and so are inherently traitorous, and don't deserve to be in the discussion.

    They are "saving the country" from Democrats.

  • Bob M on August 02, 2011 10:48 AM:

    I agree and I think Obama agrees with you. I think he will solve the problem electorally. I would be more interested in forward thinking about 20102 (how the Dems will triumph) than analysis of the present, which has been overdone -- for the immediate present anyway, as I am sure the right wing extremists have more tricks to play that will need exposure.

  • Anonymous on August 02, 2011 10:48 AM:

    But it's not Congress that's broken. It's the Republican Party.
    Yeah, but they keep getting votes and winning elections. Perhaps if there truly was a sharp distinction between the two parties the Dems would actually enjoy some small measure of success.

  • cmdicely on August 02, 2011 10:51 AM:

    As Bernstein concluded, “It’s only now, and during the years of unified Republican control, that we are seeing long-time observers complain about a broken Congress or the worst Congress ever. But it’s not Congress that’s broken. It’s the Republican Party.”

    Certainly, the Republican Party is broken, but a Constitutional system which provides the public with no timely remedy for such extreme and dangerous dysfunction in a majority in one chamber of the national legislature is itself broken as well, and magnifies the danger posed by the broken party.

    If we had a system where, say, the President could call early elections for the House unless a 2/3 majority of the House objected, and those elections would be held no less than 90 and no more than 120 days from when the elections were called, the landscape would be very different.

    Sure, its important to keep track that the GOP is the source of the immediate problems, but its equally important to be aware of how the system in which they operate contributes to the problem.

  • kevo on August 02, 2011 10:52 AM:

    The institutions are holding up rather well considering the continual effort by the GOP to consolidate power!

    For all their platitudes about the Founding Framers and the Constitution, the current Republican visionaries are actually all about re-framing and rewriting the Constitution!

    Lucky for us those gentlemen of the late 18th century had the modern Republican party in mind when they created a document that kept power in check precisely through different institutions sharing power!

    I just wish the current executive would have played his power a bit differently these past two years! Capitulating to Republican demands has tried the souls of many, and now Mr. Obama has helped set the stage for further economic woe!

    We are in need of a pivot! -Kevo

  • SYSPROG on August 02, 2011 10:52 AM:

    I do think that the GOP is beginning to break down BUT right now, crazy or not, rank and file GOPers just can vote for the 'correct' person. So even when confronted with stark ravin' mad aholes they vote Republican. I think that if there was a viable third party (and not just one where failed candidates run to) we would see the demise a lot faster.

  • howard on August 02, 2011 10:52 AM:

    i certainly agree that the republican party specifically has become a hermetically sealed container of crazy people, but yes, there is a structural flaw.

    the structural flaw is that the executive and the legislative are two different legs of a 3-legged stool, and what mcconnell and boehner have correctly figured out is that in such a world, the legislative branch can throw sand in the wheels and the executive will be blamed.

    we avoided that through american history partly because of norms, but also partly because race skewed the ideological nature of the two parties, but now that the racists all belong to the republican party and the party is free to indulge its inner confederacy, the structural problem looms much larger.

    the very first small step to solving it is to get rid of the filibuster....

  • c u n d gulag on August 02, 2011 10:56 AM:


    Republicans depend on 'Divide and Conquer."

    And they're very good at both dividing and conquering.

    Governing is a whole other story, though...

  • SocialPsi Tina on August 02, 2011 10:58 AM:

    Thanks for saying that, Steve. I'm really tired of commentators comparing the "far left" and the "far right" as if they were engaging in "balanced" analysis.

  • MikeinDC on August 02, 2011 10:59 AM:

    Steve:

    A system that allows a minority of elected officials (one branch of Government and a minority in the Senate) to hold the nation ransom and regularly keep legislation from even coming to a vote is not a well designed system. It's true that we've never had insane people driving the minority party before but now that we do (and will for the forseeable future), it's important to look to change the system. The Senate had the chance in the beginning of this session to change the fillibuster rules but they refused, once again believing naively that the folks on the other side of the aisle would act in good faith for the interest of our country. Once again, the Senate Democrats and President Obama badly misjudged their opponents and their intentions.

    The system needs to be changed!

  • LarsThorwald on August 02, 2011 10:59 AM:

    At my office we have three team leaders, two of whom are utterly ineffectual, and a third leader whose team runs very, very welll. Recently a group of co-workers began voicing complaints that the team leader structure of our office was "broken." The question was posed whether the team structure would still be viewed as "broken" if we could clone the third team leader twice and make the clones the head of the other two teams. Everyone agreed that everything would be fine, then.

    Absent a flawed filibuster rule in the Senate (which isn't a constitutional impoasition in any event), there is nothing wrong with the constitutional structure of our Congress. The fact is, when you put in 90 insane people who don't actually care about making this nation work well for as many as possible, then you get this kind of madness.

  • zeitgeist on August 02, 2011 11:02 AM:

    I disagree with the underlying premise that either the structure is flawed or the Republicans are insane. There is no reason the answer can't be "all of the above."

    The institutions are broken; they just happen to be robust enough that you don't really notice until an insane Republican party stresses the joints. But Republican insanity alone cannot be blamed for the very existence of:

    1) Secret, one-Senator holds;

    2) A filibuster that can wholly preclude, rather than just delay, appointments and legislation;

    3) Wholesale gerrymandering of the redistricting process to partisan purity that eliminates the need to appeal beyond the fringe;

    4) A Supreme Court that believes money is speech, corporations are people, and legislatures can't address the appearance of corruption or the unequal access to political processes;

    5) A mass media accessible to the broad voting public that is owned by only 4 or 5 exceedingly large multi-national entities.

    I could go on, but you get the idea. These things may really become problems only when the Republicans are nuts, but they are structural problems with the institutions of democracy nonetheless.

  • Remus Shepherd on August 02, 2011 11:05 AM:

    I think you're missing the point, Steve.

    Republicans care about symbolism because symbolism fuels campaigns. They want to be back in power, and now that they got a wedge in the door of the House they want to use it to take over all three branches again. Republicans care about power. Period.

    And this *is* a flaw in the basic structure of the system -- the electoral system. A looney minority can take over the government with enough vigor and the right funding, both of which come from their symbolic strengths, not their actual numbers or their ability to reason. Rove proved that with his evangelical strategy in 2000. The Republicans are driving up fervor in order to get themselves back into power by any means necessary, including bad policy and crazed obstructionism. And because of the flaws in our electoral system their strategy makes perfect sense.

    If they succeed a second time, then we will never have sane government again. One hopes history won't repeat itself too soon...

  • LL on August 02, 2011 11:06 AM:

    Not the first time this has been discussed by any means, but a good summary of WHY the GOP is broken:

    http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/08/02/lind_tea_party/index.html

    I'm not always a big fan of Lind, but he's right on the money here. We have been predicting that the GOP would become a rump regional party of the South. What we failed to think about was the damage it could do on its way to becoming that rump.

  • stormskies on August 02, 2011 11:09 AM:

    And exactly who is responsible for this in the end ? The sad reality is that it's the American people themselves that are because they keep electing these Repiglicans into office. Are country is indeed the United Stupid America.

  • Grumpy on August 02, 2011 11:09 AM:

    "Rather than caring about policy, they appear to care more about symbolism..."

    This is the new ideological divide in American politics. (Though we may debate how new it is.) The country has been divided before over federalist vs. states rights, populist vs. elitist, authoritarian vs. libertarian, and rich vs. poor, but this new divide of symbolism vs. substance is possibly the worst because A) it undermines the function of government rather than simply steer it in a better or worse direction, and B) it is invisible, undetectable as an ideological divide at all.

  • Danp on August 02, 2011 11:10 AM:

    You can stop legislation with Senators representing only 11% of the nation's voters. It only takes one Senator to prevent a presidential appointment, thus hamstringing an entire agency. You need millions to get elected, but not one good idea. The media decides what issues are impotant, and they are always on the auction block. You have an electorate that doesn't understand the issues, much less the process.

    The system is broken. The R's are merely tools of those who would use their money to further enrich themselves. Asking R's to be fair is like asking Avon ladies to sell Revlon.

  • Gandalf on August 02, 2011 11:10 AM:

    Stece your commentary is spot on but this isn't a startling revelation. These people have been showing their proclivities toward insane behavior for quite some time now.

  • jjm on August 02, 2011 11:13 AM:

    My feeling is that the GOP / TP have blown their wad and any shred of credibility they had with the public with this last stunt. McConnell is 'threatening' again, and yet it has the feel of so much hot air.

    I fail to see the GOP as victorious in this; they are simply putting that out there to make it seem like they are always the 'winner.' But, as with the continuing budget resolution where they extracted 'cuts' (which turned out actually to add to the budget by a few billion rather that cut it in reality) this will turn out very much the same. Cuts are backloaded, other congresses may alter the deal etc.

    Yes, they get to save a little 'face' after the multiple humiliations of 1) the Ryan budget/kill Medicare plan 2) the exposure of the tremendous ineptness of Boehner (who is bragging he got 98% of what he wanted--and yet, he didn't) 3) the degree to which the party seeming HAS to go to get what it wants because what it wants IS NOT the will of the vast majority of the people.

    So, my guess is, if the GOP TP has to keep making these pseudo crises to work their will the people will turn their backs on them. They act like they won the war, but they came out about even or less in some battles.

  • gus on August 02, 2011 11:17 AM:

    A huge part of the problem is that there seems to be this constant theme of politicking and governing until the next election. Not the one every four years but every two years.

    Look at where we are today. If and when this bill becomes law, it will be time for August recess--time for everyone to take vacations and mull stupid stuff and then after Labor Day, presidential campaign season semi-officially starts.

    It is just absolutely absurd and it seems to permeate in how some observers assess what is happening and what will happen. Just look up thread to see the attitude of Let's Get 'Em Next time. Then if you look at comments elsewhere, there are people blaming those who didn't vote in the last mid-term.

    It doesn't change how the GOP has figured out how to stymie a majority party. Nor does it change how the majority party stymies itself. Because it is all going along cycles. And, those cycles aren't like when Clinton was president. Somehow, you could see larger arcs the way he functioned, up until '98, that is. Then things got weird. But, it seems like more of the two years between elections is spent on politicking and posturing with less time devoted to responsible governance/governing.

    And we except it. We play along like we are in the stand with free cracker jacks and hotdogs loving our team, hating our team or just hating the other team. And, that is what the political press facilitates and I'd say the fringe media* like talk radio, FOX News, and the like encourage.

    As far as I can figure out, as of the election last year, not much has been done. It almost feels like more was done during that lame duck session in December than has been done since January. Am I wrong?

    *fringe media didn't used to be so mainstream, didn't it?

  • Joe Friday on August 02, 2011 11:18 AM:

    I completely disagree. The GOP party is not "broken".

    They are doing exactly what they have wanted to do all along. The American RightWing wants to dismantle and eliminate: Social Security. Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, the Federal Minimum Wage, and on and on and on, including eliminate all regulations on business.

    Why would they "deal" on healthcare when their attitude is - 'if you cannot afford good medical insurance, that's your problem' ?

    I do agree about the "symbolism", as that is all they got. If they were truthful to the American people about their real agenda, they would never get elected, so they must couch their agenda in symbolic fights.

    Bernstein makes the same error that Obama has made, assuming the Republicans are rationale and if he just negotiates they will see the light.

  • worcestergirl on August 02, 2011 11:23 AM:

    I don't think the term "broken" is the appropriate word, because I don't see the party going anywhere but gaining more power in the near future and tilting further to the rightwing, unfortunately.

    Ask yourself how numbnuts like Bachman or Florida Governor Scott can get elected? The right wing now has immense power in the control of the military brass, practically all large corporations, rightwing churches, their own TV stations and radio stations, phony think tanks, and the Supreme Court.

    The Supreme Court's Citizens United was a sea change in our system of elections, and I shudder to think of what we are in store for in 2012.

    I used to think Noam Chompsky was extreme in characterizing the right/left spectrum as "money, power, privege v. truth and justice" Now I think he basically got it right. Where money and power reign, there is little room for truth or justice. Money has a huge gravitationl force in politics, and I see no momentum to stop it. Rather, I see Democrats moving toward the right (i.e. big money) as well.

    So no, the Republican Party is not broken. It is dangerously corrupt and powerful and gaining steam. After watching this debt ceiling debacle, I truly fear for the future of this country.

  • Neurologically Disordered on August 02, 2011 11:26 AM:

    TO THE EXTENT POLITICS IS BROKEN, one solution might be to amend the Constitutional to separate cash from politics to in efect replace vastly more expensive endless campaigns with e-democracy. These reforms could possibly incentivise elected leaders to then make serving the voters their highest priority rather than being driven by the agenda of high paid lobbyist advocating for business, special interest and the wealthy. Of course the concept of digital democracy has been slow to gain acceptance, I assume, in part because media outlets (large & small) can earn substantial revenues from selling advertising to the campaigns, plus the winners under the current system of course see little incentive to change (current embarassment aside). But in time future generations may prefer a more frictionless digital system over today's old fashion analog campaigns.

  • Johnny Canuck on August 02, 2011 11:31 AM:

    "There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with how the United States does its business."

    I'm sorry to disabuse you about what so many of you think came down from God, but your Constitution merely adapted the British parliamentary system as it had evolved up to the mid-18th century. The focus was on limiting the power of the King.
    Fortutitously for the British they hadn't written down much of their Constitution, so it was able to adapt. You wrote yours down and are stuck with it.


    " We’re not in a broken-down car". What you are actually in is a 18th century horse and buggy.

    Zeitgeist has done a pretty good job of identifying the problems. I would particularly say #4. What you need is a good impeachment trial of a Supreme COurt justice who does not recuse himself from a case in which he has a personal interest.

    In Canada we have managed to keep our Courts apolitical- maybe more through good luck than anything else, but if your Justices had been members of our Supreme Court, 3 of those who cast votes for Bush would have recused themselves.

    I think the most important is the he said she says you decide media. They used to help people weed out the crazies by laughing at and embarassing them, and the crazy ideas as well.

  • gus on August 02, 2011 11:32 AM:

    I take back something I just wrote:

    Clinton's 1993-2000 was probably running on two-year cycles. Obviously, the first two were considered Executive Overreach;
    the second two were GOP Congress in power;
    the third two were showdowns and compromises that made for horrible decisions we are still living with;

    and the last two showed a lot of people the door and was one bad event after another, with ribbons and bows put on pigs while champagne corks popped because the economy was so good, no one cared about Washington except for the lobbyists.

  • LaFollette Progressive on August 02, 2011 11:33 AM:

    I think this is not quite right.

    The Senate is a fundamentally broken institution, a constipated vestigial organ that serves no purpose but to enable a 40% minority to extort concessions from the majority in exchange for not shutting down the most basic functions of the executive branch. The entire American political system is, in a sense, broken, choked with myriad veto points enabling every ideological crank and corrupting influence in DC to extract maximum concessions at every point in the process.

    But the political parties, as institutions, are not broken. They've got more parliamentary discipline than they've had in living memory.

    What's so rotten is not the Republican Party, per se, but the Conservative movement that has now finally completed its takeover of the party institutions. They are disciplined partisans, but the leaders they follow are not the titular heads of the Republican Party, but a loose network of propagandists and donors who have been building a cult following for nearly half a century, serving an ideological cause as simple, intoxicating, rigid, and sure of its own righteousness as international communism ever was.

    We're still dealing with the conservatives as if it's 1995 and the old Republican guard is still quietly steering the ship on behalf of wealthy business interests and whipping the ideologues into a fervor to achieve their own, less radical goals. But this is no longer the case. The fringe is now in charge, controlling the behavior of the old guard through the threat of primary challenges, and rapidly replacing them with true believers as they retire one by one.

    They serve the interests of big business most of the time, but not loyally or directly. They have no interest in stability. Their goal is to transform American society to more closely match their asinine utopian vision which, in their minds, looks like colonial America with interstates and iPods, but in practice will look an awful lot like a third world country.

  • QuestionEverything on August 02, 2011 11:34 AM:

    Then you have David Frum, Bush's former speech writer who wrote this article/opinion:

    http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/08/01/frum.debt.republicans/index.html?iref=allsearch

    Though I don't agree with everything he says, he says some things that need to be said but will go unnoticed by the GOP and it's radical supporters:

    "Unemployment is a more urgent problem than debt."

    "The deficit is a symptom of America's economic problems, not a cause."

    "The time to cut is after the economy recovers."

    "Passion does not substitute for judgment."

    "Republicans and conservatives have worked themselves into a frenzy of rage and contempt for President Barack Obama. House Speaker John Boehner's post-deal PowerPoint for Republican House members was actually labeled "Two Step Approach to Hold President Obama Accountable" (PDF) -- as if the supreme goal of policy in this time of economic hardship were to fix the blame for all problems on the president. This exercise in finger-pointing satisfies the emotions of the Republican base. It does not accurately explain the causes of the crisis or offer plausible remedies."

    "You can't save the system by destroying the system."

    "Let's hope that as America steps back from the brink, Republicans remember that it's their job to protect the system, not to smash the system in hopes of building something better from the ruins.

    That's how student radicals think -- not conservatives."

  • bjh on August 02, 2011 11:34 AM:

    In the opening sentence of his piece, Bernstein says those examining American political institutions need to ""begin their diagnosis by looking at what ailes the Republican Party." "Ailes" indeed -- I think the corner office at Fox News is indeed a good place to start. (Bernstein or his editors may fix the typo soon, but it's certainly there now -- perhaps more a subconscious slip than a true typo.)

  • TCinLA on August 02, 2011 11:38 AM:

    The problem is that no one wants to admit that what has screwed up the GOP is its takeover by far right religious fundamentalists. It is being run the way the Fundamentalist religion (it's not Christian, Jewish, Moslem or Hindu, it's Fundamentalist) operates. Most people have never been around the kind of mind-control operations that are run inside those mega-churches, but if you read Matt Taibbi or Jeff Sharlet ("The Family") you can see what is going on. These guys don't compromise because they have been religiously brainwashed that compromise with "evil" (and liberals are Evil Incarnate) is a sin.

    It's the old thing Garrison Keillor once noted: if you take one Southern Baptist fishing with you, he'll drink all your beer. But if you take two, they won't drink any.

    We are not dealing with a political party, we are dealing with a religion. The Fundamentalist Right is not "a part" of the Republican Party, it is the Republican Party. Go look at the religious background of every one of the Tea Party morons who were elected to Congress in 2010 and you will find they are all Fundamentalist Right.

  • robert on August 02, 2011 11:39 AM:

    Sorry Steve this is just Bull Shit.

    The system is working just fine if you are a right wing Republican. They are willing to fight -using weapons many find objectionable but, which no one has said are illegal (well except for the stolen 2000 Presidential)- and my Party-the Democrats- can't figure out how to fight back. (Oh I know 'the whole system is corrupt', blah, blah, blah. But we can't fix it and they make use of it and we can't/won't)
    We fell all over ourselves with congratualtions when we passed a watered down health care Bill WHEN WE HAD A NUMERICAL MAJORITY IN BOTH HOUSES AND OBAMA IN THE WHITE HOUSE!

    Isn't it time we ask Congress people like Nita Lowey -who tell us they are for the middle class and working people- 'why did you vote for the same debt limit legislation as Nan Hayworth?' DeLauro didn't. Maloney didn't. Engel didn't. Why did you Nita?

  • nj progressive on August 02, 2011 11:42 AM:

    I've been struck for several years by the fact that conservatives in general and the Republican Party in particular despise government. They don't seem to believe that government exists except as a tool for wielding power (especially military power) and distributing largesse to the wealthy.

    If you don't believe in government, how do you govern?

  • Fang on August 02, 2011 11:42 AM:

    I would note that the Republican party is broken if you think of it as a functional political party. It is not broken so much as not operating as a political party with any connection to the functioning of the country. In many ways it is NOT a political party.

    In examining the Republicans I noticed that, to put it bluntly, they attract scam artists. I've never seen anyone on the left that compare with the utter bullshit machines of Limbaugh, Murdoch, and many other "little Limbaughs" and "little Murdochs." Look at hucksters like Newt Gingrich, or your average religious right money-grubber.

    In looking at this I realized that the Republican party, back when it really was some kind of party, was happy to take any help to get it to move forward, play any game. Whatever good intentions they had they were gone when it became about winning.

    So you had a party about winning that was willing to play all sorts of ideological games. So of course it attracts the hucksters, the game-players, more moneymen. These people say whatever works at the time to get ahead - and make a profit.

    The Republican party is a giant con game draped in a pseudo-religion. Look at the way the average Republican voter is treated as just a cash cow to be sold 9/11 coins and memberships to websites full of ranting crazy. Look at the "consulting" businesses that exist to move money around.

    Of course a lot of the conned people are conned ideologically, and as they've bought into this world (indeed, you can pay to get all the self-deluding books and videos you need), they keep upping their seemingly crazy game. Part of the con is wanting to fit in to the gang, and they'll go to all sorts of extremes to be the most teabaggy among them.

    To stop for a moment, imagine how much your average Republican would have to admit to. Imagine how stupid and immoral they'd have to confess to being.

    They bought the con-disgused-as-religion. Their egos are too small to admit it.

  • Mitch on August 02, 2011 12:17 PM:

    The system is broken, but not beyond repair. Zeitgeist's list of some of the key problems is very true. As long as those factors exist, our system will not be able to work properly.

    The Republican Party is broken, in pretty much every way. They are tin dictators and theocrats who feel as if they are in holy war against "libruls" and their mindless rage is a danger not just to our country, but to the entire world.

    Worst of all the Electorate is broken. Our system depends on having informed, educated and reasonable citizens. We do not. Why study, learn and think when you can watch Jersey Shore or Celebrity Rehab?

  • low-tech cyclist on August 02, 2011 1:06 PM:

    My father used to say that both parties wanted what was best for America; they just disagreed about what that was. I'd add that a debate between two parties who have divergent views about what's best for the country can reveal the strengths and flaws of both sides' approaches.

    But it's been clear for awhile now that for the GOP, trashing the country is acceptable collateral damage in their war against the Democrats and the left in general.

  • Vokoban on August 02, 2011 1:55 PM:

    The Weimar Republic would still exist if the NSDAP didn't use it's structural flaws to destroy it. If you depend on mutual good will to maintain a structure it's flawed. At least on a government level.

  • Comstock Load on August 02, 2011 3:18 PM:

    One correction: "The House is a mess because it's been over by mad men" and women.

  • giantslor on August 02, 2011 3:20 PM:

    The institutions absolutely have structural flaws. Look at how campaigns are financed. Look at the filibuster. Look at the disproportional representation in the Senate, where small rural states get the same representation as huge urban states. These structural flaws are huge impediments to progress in this country.

  • Pat on August 02, 2011 3:23 PM:

    There is a structural flaw. Money buys elections and therefore elected officials are beholden to the rich whether they are individuals or corporations. Make elected officials beholden to the people, educate the people and the "flaws" would disappear.

  • cmdicely on August 02, 2011 4:04 PM:

    At my office we have three team leaders, two of whom are utterly ineffectual, and a third leader whose team runs very, very welll. Recently a group of co-workers began voicing complaints that the team leader structure of our office was "broken." The question was posed whether the team structure would still be viewed as "broken" if we could clone the third team leader twice and make the clones the head of the other two teams. Everyone agreed that everything would be fine, then.

    Absent a flawed filibuster rule in the Senate (which isn't a constitutional impoasition in any event), there is nothing wrong with the constitutional structure of our Congress. The fact is, when you put in 90 insane people who don't actually care about making this nation work well for as many as possible, then you get this kind of madness.

    I would argue -- both in the office case and the case of a national legislature -- a system that works only with the "right people" is broken. If we could guarantee only the "right people", any system would work. Systems are broken that are not resilient to the type of people that become involved in the system, in the positions that they become involved in, under the existing rules of the system.

  • Lucius on August 07, 2011 9:06 AM:

    What I take to be the salient point of the article:
    "But the system breaks down when one of the parties goes berserk. We’re not in a broken-down car; we’re in a perfectly good car with a crazy person in the passenger seat recklessly grabbing the steering wheel at inopportune times."

    Of course, when the crazy person exercises an influence far beyond their apparent strength then bad things can happen. And with this hastily cobbled together debt ceiling/budget slashing agreement, bad things are sure to follow. I do not agree that the system is working perfectly fine. If it was then this debacle of debt/budget wrangling would never have happened. And, as Zeitgeist and others point out, there are both systemic and political dysfunctionalities that now seem endemic in D.C..

    I consider this budget/debt deal to be an epic fail for Democrats, a partial win for the GOP/teabaggers and a total loser for the American people who will have to pay the price in increasing joblessness, loss of social services, and a reduction in government domestic discretionary spending. Of course, Wall St, the corporations and the 1%ers will continue to live high on the hog, as will the war mongers of the military industrial complex. But hey, so long as we can destroy and then rebuild vast areas of the Middle East does it really matter that that our own infrastructure is coming apart at the seams, wages have been flat for the past 30 years, and massive unemployment and homelessness are now basic facts of life. Nah.

    This so-called Great Recession is a long term economic downturn. And nothing is going to change that. University of Massachusetts Economics Professor Richard Wolff has a great DVD lecture called "Capitalism Hits the Fan" that succinctly explains the economic forces at work during the past 3 decades that have led to this sorry state of affairs. Anyone who thinks that this economic situation is temporary and we’re on the road to ‘recovery’ needs to view this and Chris Martensen's DVD called "Crash Course".

    Obama is only doing what his masters on Wall St and his silent partner, the GOP, want him to. Though there is little doubt that he has wholeheartedly adopted the neo-con agenda and is, at best, an economic centrist.

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