Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Californiazation of politics

There are lots of things to love about life in California... the weather is great, the scenery is breath-taking, the fresh produce and wonderful wine is amazing. Politics on the other hand just, for want of a better word, suck. Polarization is a characteristic of California and nowhere is it more evident than in politics. Because politicians are always running for office, they are always courting votes for primaries. Primaries always attract the "true believers," i.e. the least centrist of a party (myself included) so the politicians tend to move towards the extremes. This trend is much stronger among conservatives where there is a stronger consensus on the hot button issues than among progressives, but it is present in both camps. Add the disintegration of civil discourse and suddenly the political process grinds to a halt. Legislators are afraid to compromise for fear of alienating the fringe that votes in the primaries and there are no long term relationships or proclivities to civil discourse to push them to work together.

Of course, there are other issues in California - the initiative process is a huge one - that contribute to the dysfunction, but this is a central one that we are seeing effect our national politics as well. Yesterday I learned that Evan Bayh had announced that he is retiring from congress saying that our system is "dysfunctional," riddled with "brain-dead partisanship" and marked by permanent campaigning. He went on to recommend that we throw out all of the current legislators and get new ones who are willing to work together to actually govern.

While I appreciate his thoughts ad certainly understand his frustration at the current situation, I don't think his solution would work. Indeed, it is the newer legislators who are most likely to act in a completely partisan way and are least able to talk across the aisle. Also, I do not think it is unfair to call the Republican party out on this one. That party has become a party that only seeks to impede governing. When Sarah Palin asked how that "hopey changey stuff is going," she forgot to mention that a significant reason that nothing was changing is because the Republican party has refused to allow anything to come to a vote, essentially requiring any legislation to pass by a super majority rather than the majority required by the constitution. Look at this chart from wikipedia...

Clearly, they are using this legislative tool in a way it has never been used before and it has paralyzed our government. Is it any wonder that the electorate is frustrated? Imagine if the Democrats were able to muster the same kind of unanimity. No bill would ever pass again. No judge would ever be appointed. Nothing would happen except posturing and spending of obscene amounts of money.

Throw them out? Perhaps, but not indiscriminately. If we're going to send a message, let's send one telling our elected officials to govern rather than just obstruct. To those who are only obstructing, on either side of the aisle, get rid of them. To all of those left, tell them to work together for the good of the people rather than working to appease fringe constituencies or corporate masters.

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