The Shutdown: Don’t Take Sides — Take Action

The Shutdown: Don't Take Sides -- Take Action

There are encouraging signs that the federal government shutdown is winding down. But let’s not kid ourselves — it or something like it is pretty much a sure bet to return.

That’s because the shutdown reflects some deep-seated problems with our government and politics. And while it may be over soon, those problems are far from being solved.

As I wrote in this space last week, the shutdown is (or was) about the cynical, rule-bending maneuvers of career-minded officeholders and partisan hacks and the corrupting power of big money in our politics.

It was about the way elected officials and their partisan backers in both major parties — but especially the Republicans — have gerrymandered scores of congressional districts to create “safe” seats, creating a situation in which large groups of congressmen and women are now more focused on fending off primary challenges from ideologues on the fringes of each party than on the hard work of governing.

In the House, Republicans elected from these hard-core partisan districts are thwarting majority rule and the compromises essential to a functional democracy. In the Senate, compromise and majority rule have been sabotaged by the filibuster rule, which allows just 41 of 100 senators to block any action.

And behind all of it has been the power of big money. Supreme Court decisions ostensibly protecting free speech have instead facilitated paid speech — by wealthy individuals and single-issue groups. The hundreds of millions of dollars those political investors now pour into our elections buy them attention from and access to officeholders and allow them to drown out more moderate voices in the political center.

The bottom line is that in this age of unprecedented access and connectivity, it has become more difficult for middle America — economically and politically — to influence or even participate in the democratic process. Members of Congress have been empowered to act irresponsibly, even as the American people increasingly desire results.

It’s time for fundamental reform of our political system at every level. Get involved. Common Cause is a good place to start, but for goodness sake start somewhere.

  • Read more about partisan gerrymandering here and here.
  • Read more about the filibuster and its impact on majority rule here.
  • Read more about the power of big money in politics here.
  • Get involved.