A year when government failed us

By David Rohde
December 28, 2012

Barack Obama said it himself in his first post-election press conference. Speaking at the White House on November 14, Obama said conversations with families, workers and small business owners along the campaign trail had left him convinced that average Americans deserved more from Washington.

“When you talk to these folks,” Obama said, “you say to yourself, ‘Man, they deserve a better government than they’ve been getting.’”

Exactly.

As 2012 comes to a close, partisanship is slowing our economy, making our children unsafe and reducing our confidence in the future. In 2008, egregious behavior by bankers and regulators could be blamed for gutting the economy. In the 1970s, high union wages could be blamed for reducing the competitiveness of American industry. Today, our political dysfunction is our biggest economic and social liability.

Example one: the fiscal cliff. After two months of absurd political posturing, the country is four days away from a wholly preventable economic body-blow that will stall a fragile recovery. The same dynamic that occurred last summer during the debt-ceiling fiasco is repeating itself. The failure to compromise on fiscal policy is eroding consumer confidence and slowing the economy just as growth begins to take hold.

The problem is not that American companies and workers are uncompetitive. It is not that manufacturing jobs are flowing overseas. Those economic trends have largely played themselves out. It is a new dynamic: political deadlock handicapping our economy.

Michelle Meyer, senior U. S. economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said this week that “fiscal cliff” gamesmanship is a drag on the economy. Even if the cliff is averted in the next few days or weeks, Meyer estimated that the U.S. economy will grow by just 1 percent in the first quarter of 2013, a third of the 3.1 percent posted in the third quarter of 2012.

“What’s been missing in this recovery has been confidence,” Meyer told the New York Times. “We’d see a healthy recovery if it weren’t for this uncertainty and the potential shock from Washington.”

A second example is compromising on rising gun violence. In the wake of the murder of two firefighters in Rochester, New York and 20 first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut, the debate over gun violence devolved into a familiar pattern. Liberal commentators blamed the National Rifle Association. The NRA blamed the news media.

In truth, seizing the 300 million guns that now circulate among America’s 315 million people is unrealistic. So is placing armed guards in each of the country’s roughly 100,000 public schools. Instead, polls show that most Americans support a mix of reforms.

A majority of Americans continue to oppose a ban on assault rifles, a divisive issue that has long been supported by liberals but vehemently opposed by conservatives, according to polls. At the same time, the vast majority of Americans support stricter control of handguns, more effective background checks at gun shows, and a ban on large-capacity ammunition clips that hold dozens of rounds. In the wake of Newtown, improving our identification and treatment of the mentally ill is also vital.

Any attempt at enacting these reforms, though, is likely to stall in the House of Representatives, the same place that rejected Speaker John Boehner’s attempt at fiscal cliff compromises last week. Yesterday, Nate Silver of the New York Times joined a long list of analysts and academics who have found that both parties, though primarily Republican-dominated state legislatures, have used the redistricting of House seats to create a warped system that rewards political extremism, not compromise.

Over the last 20 years, the number of House districts that swing between political parties has shrunk by two-thirds from 103 in 1992 to roughly 35 today, Silver found. At the same time, the number of districts where parties win by landslides has nearly doubled from 123 to 242.

Today, 55 percent of House members come from districts where their biggest threat is losing a primary election, not the general election. Of the landslide districts, 124 are held by Republicans and 117 Democrats (one is an independent). They have little incentive to compromise. Instead, their incentive is to play to their party base. Making independent boards responsible for redistricting, as some states have done, would be far better.

Due to redistricting, the country’s demography and other changes, Democrats are likely to control the White House and Senate for years to come while Republicans are likely control the House, Silver found. The system is so rigged that swings in the popular vote for Republicans in House races in 2010 and Democrats in 2012 created unduly small changes in the House’s balance of power.

And lastly, to be fair, another culprit is at work in our paralysis: my business. In 2012, partisan news coverage triumphed. Following the model of Fox News, MSNBC tacked left, trounced CNN and firmly secured its position as the country’s second most popular cable news channel behind Fox.

MSNBC and Fox showed that creating bubbles where liberals and conservatives safely have their own views affirmed works. Simplifying complex problems and denigrating the other side sells. Fox was more excessive in my view with its peddling of false Benghazi conspiracy theories and Mike Huckabee’s claim that “removing God from our schools” caused the Newtown massacre setting new lows.

But the left brimmed with disdain as well. Republicans who refused to compromise were considered irrational, not following their interests in a system that is jerry-rigged toward partisanship. On both sides of the political spectrum in 2012, we were increasingly less open-minded, tolerant and empathetic. And all year long was saw that play out in Washington in ways that diminished us all.

PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol building is pictured behind a fence as lawmakers return from the Christmas recess in Washington December 27, 2012. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

 

 

18 comments

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Part of the problem is the unwillingness of journalists like yourself to tell the truth. You are no better than those in Congress who are putting their self-interests first.

For example, on the gun issue you present the progressive side as wanting to confiscates everyone’s guns and on the right, placing armed security guards in every school. This is a problem. No serious representative of Americans wanting to see a better regulated gun industry has come out with a major statement promoting a ban on all gun ownership. That’s misleading, a lie. Yet the primary spokesman for guns in America, Wayne LaPierre, did indeed make a major statement advocating the placement of armed guards in every school. So just stop it. Stop with you false balance, grow you a pair, and start doing the right thing for your country. Present the truth.

The stalemate in Washington isn’t equally contributed to by both the left and the right, but as long as you give the right cover, nothing will change, except the fortunes of our nation will to decline.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

I would argue that our government has been failing “us”, meaning anyone who is not wealthy, since its inception.

Why? Because it was set up as a plutocracy, and it remains today true to its original principles of Social Darwinism.

This latest temper tantrum is simply the latest in a dreary series of misuse of power, and your “story” doesn’t come anywhere near to telling the truth.

There is a saying that you get the government you deserve, and frankly this government is what the vast majority of American people deserve.

Posted by PseudoTurtle | Report as abusive

Excellent article! However, @flashrooster makes an excellent point that the press is often misleading by trying to shift some of the blame to the left, when the problems are almost entirely due to right wing extremists.

The current series of crises have been artificially created crises spawned by right wing extremists in the House. They clearly indicated that wanted to make government fail while Obama remained President and are doing just that.

That gerrymandering is the root cause of the extremism in the House is a little bit buried in the middle of the article: “…a long list of analysts and academics … have found that both parties, though primarily Republican-dominated state legislatures, have used the redistricting of House seats to create a warped system that rewards political extremism, not compromise.” Democrats handily won the popular vote for the House as well as the Senate and the Presidency, yet the Tea Party and other right wing extremists are still able to sabotage the government in an attempt to force major changes to suit their extremist ideology.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

I will be so happy when taxes on the rich go up. The amount of the additional tax revenue is chump change compared to the massive debt Obama is amassing. What are the dems then going to do when they have to confront real budget cuts (as our debt rating continues to deteriorate and interest rates have to rise to sell government bonds to fund the debt)?

Obama legacy: $20 trillion in debt and he owns it.

Posted by smit1610 | Report as abusive

Good grief, Mr. Rohde…

“As 2012 comes to a close, partisanship is slowing our economy, making our children unsafe and reducing our confidence in the future.”?

It is not “partisanship” that is making our children unsafe. The same sociopaths that are always present in human society are simply become more competent at what they do, with or without guns, than “we, the people” and those we hire to warehouse and educate our children with efficiency and in safety.

Politicians of both major parties know they can stay in office in virtual perpetuity so long as they can keep their “constituents” squabbling with each other emotionally over “little issues”. Were they to frame for us the choices that must be actually made in order to address and resolve America’s ever-increasing spending problem they might be held to account by those whose “ox is gored” of necessity.

This problem isn’t “partisan”. It might be described as “incompetent”, “ineffective”, “insincere”, “flip-flopping”, or any number of less than complimentary terms, but anything so totally pervasive in politicians of all labels CANNOT be “partisan”. The problem is a government in which every leader judges their success by the size of their department and staff. We do not even debate shrinking our government…only slowing it’s rate of expansion as we are expected to pass ever more increases to America’s “debt limit”. It is not only our leaders that are idiots, “we, the people” have to look in the mirror and see that it is US that keep sending the same kind of people to Washington. The process is much like trying to pick up a turd by the clean end.

Let’s face it. “We, the people” have not demanded scalps. We do not expect accountability. The “egregious behavior by bankers and regulators” that gutted our economy in 2008 was not only not punished, it was rewarded by government bailout of those people and firms responsible. No union leader responsible for the unjustifiable union wages of the 1970s has forfeited his job…it is the American worker, both union and non-union, that “paid the piper”.

Until Americans can be made to identify and separate their needs from their wants, there is no limit to the size of government administration “necessary” and no limit to the taxes necessary to fund it. America is better able to afford to meet it’s needs than any country in history. But no country in the history of the world has proven able to afford everything it’s people WANT! What is conspicuously missing is the voice of reason.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

@flashrooster

The left does everything that the right does and more. The only difference is every media outlet other than the majority of talk radio and Fox covers for them. Obama, Hillary, Kerry, and the rest of the Democrats moved to block the raising of the debt limit when Bush was President. The Democrats held the congress and Senate from 2006-2010 and did nothing with the out of control spending or the Bush tax cuts.

To believe that that all of the problems in D.C. revolves around the GOP is moronic.

Posted by TheNewWorld | Report as abusive

Yes, Government has failed “us”, depending on who “us” is.

A huge part of the problem is that we almost all operate with at least two contradictory definitions of “us”. Most of all, the US abandoned the concept of assimilation in the 1960′s, so there is no single group of people we can call “us”. We are a “country”, or more properly, we are ruled by a single political entity, that creates new ethnic / racial / sexual / class “identities” monthly. And these entities are certainly not treated equally. Some the Government wants more of, and encourages their rise, while others Government wants fewer of, and we encourage their fall. If you are a member of one of the legally preferred groups, everything looks rosy. If you are a member of a group that is actively discriminated against, then you feel Government has “failed”.

The fact is that there is a “bi-partisan” consensus that there are too many of a certain group everywhere but the graveyard. This will not change. Other groups see no problem with this either. Given that this disliked group is almost 1/3 of the population, predicting trouble and dysfunction is easy. There will be a continuing tectonic shift in the society, with at least frequent social clashes, if not social disorder. Get used to it.

Banning guns, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly all will improve Governmental control, which is the point. If you benefit from Government, you want more of it. Why not? The problem is with a minority.

Left, right, Liberal, Conservative are all irrelevant to this issue. Both wings agree, which is how we find ourselves where we are. There are those who like Government and its actions, and those who do not. It is not political. It has to do with ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation.

Posted by usagadfly | Report as abusive

TheNewWorld: Anyone who refers to the Bush tax cuts as the Obama tax cuts, as you do, obviously has serious problems with analyzing issues objectively and, therefore, lacks credibility.

Understand something about how capitalism works. It doesn’t stop at the doorway of media outlets. They, too, are commercial, income-producing, businesses. As is often the case with your statements, claiming that every media outlet, besides FOX, covers for the Democrats defies logic. Mainstream media outlets are not interested in promoting a political agenda. They’re interested in making money. Therefore, it behooves them to do what Mr. Rohde’s has done here in his piece, create a false balance so not to offend anyone with the objective of maximizing their profits.

For example, NBC is owned by GE and Comcast. They’re not in business to promote a political agenda. They’re in business to make money, and anyone claiming differently isn’t thinking logically, nor will they be able to offer any kind of definitive proof. Jack Welch is no friend to the Democrats and doesn’t try to hide it. He led GE for 20 years, making it the industrial monster it is today (and I mean that in the best sense.) GE has a very serious, well-funded, well-organized lobbying effort that keeps them paying little or nothing in taxes. Now, explain to me why you think NBC has a leftwing agenda. It makes absolutely no sense. Most Democrats think GE should be paying taxes. Obviously, GE disagrees.

FOX, on the other hand, is an exception, but they’re not promoting a leftwing agenda. They are clearly biased toward rightwing ideology. FOX News is a subsidiary of News Corp, which was founded by, and is controlled by, Rupert Murdoch, who isn’t shy about making known his political leanings. He makes very large donations to the Republican party and none to the Democrats. I think even you might agree that his FOX News is slanted favoring rightwing ideology, but even that has proven to be good business for him. Roger Ailes’s story isn’t much different. He, too, donates generously to the Republican party and doesn’t try to hide his support for the GOP and his disdain for the Democrats. I should point out that Ailes is a former NBC executive. You know, NBC, that leftwing propaganda outlet you hate so much.

So the news media is definitely not biased in favor of Democrats. It only appears that way to you because roughly 50% of the time they make statements that aren’t flattering to the Republicans. To your way of thinking, that makes them biased.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

@usagadfly,

You and I seldom agree, but I’m “with” you 100% here except for the last half of the paragraph beginning “The fact is…”. When you say “Some the Government wants more of, and encourages their rise, while others Government wants fewer of, and we encourage their fall”, I am confused when you jump from what “government wants”, to what “we encourage”.

In my view, “our” government is a “hive mind” of infinite power conspicuously without loyalty, deference or respect for those who fund it. It has many unrelated agendas, some wholly inconsistent with each other. It has been compared with a huge log floating down the river covered with ants, each one thinking it is steering!

It must want more of the poor because it pays them by the head to reproduce and mature to voting age. It must want more irresponsibility on the part of banks and more loans to those who will not or can not repay them. It must hate the responsible and productive because it takes money from these to give to the irresponsible and unproductive.

Accordingly I cannot “identify” with a government that resists responsibility and accountability at every opportunity. “My” government is an enemy I must eternally watch and be prepared without notice to defend my interests as best I can wherever and whenever possible.

You speak of a “…disliked group…almost 1/3 of the population…” without defining it. Would these be the unmotivated, the uneducated, the unskilled, the long term unemployed, the irresponsible and those who would in any manner “take” from another without giving fair value in return. Guess what? This description includes people from the bottom to and including the top of our society.

You say that “predicting trouble and dysfunction is easy. There will be a continuing tectonic shift in the society, with at least frequent social clashes, if not social disorder. Get used to it.” Well, not really.

In the south during the sixties, “social clashes” were the final convulsion by which our society made genuine progress in delivering on it’s constitutional promise of offering equal opportunity to all citizens. Today many of those same people are just as unhappy because “equal opportunity” has not brought about “equal achievement”. Different matter entirely.

To have a chance at “equal achievement” each student must pay attention in school. They must not disrupt the learning process and they must not drop out before earning a high school diploma or GED.. They must value acquiring the skills each will need for gainful employment and they must understand and accept the concept of personal responsibility to show up on time day after day ready to put in an honest day’s work because those who don’t won’t be able to keep a job if they get one. They should not be too fat to be accepted into a military service. They need to have a husband with a job before reproducing.

If people who don’t do these things instigate social clashes or are responsible for social disorder they will go to jail. The uncivil are NOT part of “civil society”. Productive Americans need not accept such disruption, nor will they “get used to it.” Why should they?

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

The plutocracy which is America today has evolved from the plutocracy it was when they wrote the Constitution. Many people have gone to the trouble of reading the documents which first created this country and come to understand that it was designed from day one to benefit the wealthy, the white and the landowners, provided they are male. It still works this way because we have not changed anything about the basic construction. It still benefits the few at the cost of the minority. We, the minority, have fewer rights now than we had in the early 1800′s. The mythical Bill of Rights has been rendered meaningless by the last few administrations, especially and oddly enough, the Obama Administration, which is the most secretive in history and continues the “Right” to kill anyone, anywhere, without due process. Obviously this flies in the face of everything we have been told about our nation! Yet we quibble over details, fight over insulting language and continue handing over our rights and wealth to the Noble Few, the white male land-owners who started this thing going when they wanted their tax dollars to be small while their rights and privileges soared to new heights.

Meanwhile, we seem to have noticed that the “news” media has taken a tack which credits out and out lies by the right with truths spoken by the so-called “left”. In fact there hasn’t been a “Left” in America since the 70′s, but any group or person whose political leanings are not firmly fascist are described as “Left”. There are no neutrals, everybody has their opinion and in the sea of words any wisdom is quickly drowned. Nations do not change overnight, nor without fighting and killing of innocents and innocence. As America sends out it’s drones and it’s mercenaries to murder civilians to help our dictators defeat democracies just starting to form we are asked to pay more for the right to be the slaves of the wealthy. And sadly enough the majority of Americans are fine with that idea, just fine, boss.

So what happened? Here’s a clue: look at any piece of electronics in your house and note the country of origin. Check your shoes and hats and appliances and just about anything else. China. China won the Cold War and we were not told that fact. We were told the Big Lie that America won the war and came out on top, but look at who made the control panels in our drones: China. Look who made parts for our cars, toys for our kids, pencils for our schools and Ipads, Ipods, tablets, laptops…all Chinese made. Now our Communist masters require that we buy and buy and discard and buy again and we do that so well. They do not care what political leanings we claim. We quibble among ourselves and kill our neighbors and all while blissfully unaware of our true state, our “client state” for China’s new middle class, it’s new business community. This is why it seems that “WE” don’t have any influence over “our” government. It seems to be listening to somebody else. It is. Our government listens to it’s master.

Posted by WillShirley | Report as abusive

The voters pay too much attention to images and not what works. Also there are too many offices that voted for which no one but the politicians and their corruptors know any thing about. A reasonable span of control for most managers is 10 people. Therefore a voter should have about that many to vote for. That means eliminating state and local governments.

Hey, what about 1929 and 2008 and do not forget the all the BP deep water problems. We have regulators who do not have the technical knowledge or will to do their job. Anytime we have regulations that are either do not do their job or are too costly a way to do it, government failed.

Posted by Samrch | Report as abusive

I do not always agree with you sir, but this was an excellent and well balanced opinion piece. We all bear complicity for the way things are, and only with reason and compromise will we ever get close to having things the way we wish them to be.

That our government is confused and seems to have failed us is little surprise since we ourselves speak as a thousand voices instead of one. The answer as with any crisis is to calm down, assess the situation and then act promptly with logic but without haste.

We can each have part of what we want, or none of us will have anything we want.

Posted by CaptnCrunch | Report as abusive

The right earns more blame for government dysfunction because they are the more fanatical. There is no left fanatic group with quite the same depth of desire and commitment to obstructing the American legislative process as our present day Republican party. If there is a left-wing equivalent to the Tea Party, name it here and now.

So, no, the left doesn’t deserve the same weight in blame, and I get testy when the press tries to appease their readers with phony conciliatory statements of equal blame. Those who do are afraid of either their audience, their peers, their bosses, or all three.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

the Presidents quote is very amusing. It’s no secret that as long as elected officials take special interest money, there is no representation for the electorate. I hope that I’m around when the electorate wakes up and finds that out.
Elections are not a reality show.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

The failure of the federal government can be summarized by the fact that it is involved in too many issues for which it is not designed to address, nor should it address. Our constitution was structured so that 50 entities (the states) could be address the issues most important to the individuals they represent–not a centralized government trying to secure compromise across 300 million persons.

Looking to the Beltway to design legislation where “one size fits all” is impossible–and is responsible for both the corruption and failure of the political process. The government should go back to relying on the private sector to deliver those services which government cannot efficiently deliver, and exclusively focus on those which are national in their orientation (e.g. defense, international treaties, disputes between states, taxation, etc.)

Any reasonable individual can see where government involvement has caused only to exacerbate problems rather than fix them (the law of unintended consequences). Perhaps the first place we should start is to eliminate the year-round jobs of Congress–and force them to do their work in 120 days like many of the state legislatures. That in itself would eliminate much of the corruption and graft that influences legislation.

Posted by COindependent | Report as abusive

@JL4,

You seem unaware that politicians of neither major party are serious about shrinking our government. That’s why the wringing of hands and wailing when a group be so bold as to refuse to “go along” with endless increases in America’s Debt Limit.

The debt limit is a “blank check” that “we, the people” must eventually pay. Even though NO ONE knows what this money will be spent for when it is authorized, we know with absolute certainty that all those dollars WILL be spent AND MORE!

So long as increases are NECESSARY in America’s debt limit, America is not living within it’s means. This has been the case for so long that many economic ignoramuses accept the idea that America can keep printing dollars without limit and need never fear inflation.

So if you would “blame” those who would absolutely DEMAND that America reverse the present course to economic suicide, I must question your loyalty to this country as a citizen. If temporary “dysfunction” be necessary to end endemic fiscal irresponsibility as a matter of day-to-day government policy, America needs more of this…not less!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Transparency or corruption. I plan on running in every possible election with the Platform of “Total Transparency” Video everything and post it to the net. Record all phone calls and save all emails to DVD’s available to everyone. Corruption can only thrive in secrecy. Occupy every political forum with Video. I do.
Doug Pederson AKA SpectateSwamp

Posted by bloggerswamp | Report as abusive

We are the government. We failed ourselves, and for our children.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive