How Bad Is It?

Many now believe our governmental system no longer works.  According to a new poll, eighty-six percent of people questioned say that our system of government is broken.  (See “CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll.”)

Clearly, the major reason is the stalling of health reform legislation in Congress, following the loss of Senator Kennedy’s seat.  Reform of the financial industry may also be the victim of the Democrats loss of their filibuster-proof majority.

Last week, Senator Evan Bayh, explaining his decision not to run for reelection in Ohio, noted: “There is too much partisanship and not enough progress — too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. Even at a time of enormous challenge, the people’s business is not being done.”  As The New York Times put it, summarizing Bayh’s view:  Congress is “frozen by partisan politics and incapable of passing even basic legislation.”

Thoughtful observers of the political process have become increasingly worried about the polarization of debate and the increasing the role of lobbyists.  There is a strong argument to be made that our political process has become hostage to special interests.  Given their power to prevent change to the status quo, it seems that no substantial initiatives stand a chance of being passed. And it looks like the major goal of the Republicans at the moment is to thwart the President.

Is this just the view of the chattering classes, the new conventional wisdom of Washington pundits?  Possibly.  But there are other, more ominous sources of evidence for those who look beneath the surface.

The tea party movement is energized, growing fast.  A chaotic jumble of grass-roots, anti-government sentiment, refusing to be co-opted by Ultra conservative Republicans, it expresses the frustrated rage and mistrust of genuine protest.  More than anything, it reveals the profound alienation of its members from our political process. (See, “Tea Party Movement Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right.”)

Then, there is the reappearance Dick Cheney.  Claiming Obama projects weakness, Cheney criticizes his lax security efforts, insufficient prosecution of terrorists, the use of civilian trials, etc.  Asserting that the President doesn’t seem to realize we are at war, his rhetoric implies we need a strong man to take charge.

Cheney, the authoritarian curmudgeon who did more than anyone in recent history to undermine our constitutional guarantees of liberty, is just speaking his mind.  But the encouragement and coverage he is getting suggests a widespread longing for someone to take over, to protect us by imposing order.

And then last week, a seemingly normal Texan slammed his plane into the office building housing the Internal Revenue Service.  He left a somewhat incoherent note, but his suicide bombing points to the fact that it is not just Islamic terrorists abroad who hate our government and are willing to die for the sake of revenge.

We could look at all of these events as isolated from each other, but their concurrence suggests a real crisis of faith in our system.  Pundits and politicians state the theme, but these other events give it more credibility and punch.