Opinion: Politics driving government dysfunction

February 28, 2013


— Some of us can recall the helpless feeling of being in a vehicle driven by someone who is intoxicated. If you’re like me, you don’t want to cause a scene unless the driving is really erratic. But there comes a moment when you need to say: Stop the car. You’re going to hurt someone. Hand over the keys.

We have a political system that is the equivalent of a drunken driver. The primary culprits are the House Republicans. They are so intoxicated with their own ideology that they are ready to drive the nation’s car off the road. I don’t know if the sequestration that’s set to begin Friday will produce a little crisis or a big one; the sad fact is that the Republicans don’t know either, yet they’re still willing to put the country at risk to make a political point.

I’m no fan of the way President Obama has handled the fiscal crisis. As I’ve written often, he needs to provide the presidential leadership that leads Congress and the country toward fiscal stability. In my analogy, he should take the steering wheel firmly in hand and drive the car toward the destination where most road maps show we need to be heading — namely, a balanced program of cuts in Social Security and Medicare and modest increases in revenue.

Instead, Obama has chosen to be co-dependent, as the psychologists say about those who foster the destructive behavior of others. He double-dared the reckless Republicans by proposing the sequester back in 2011. And rather than stepping up to leadership since his re-election, he has triple-dared the GOP hotheads with a partisan inaugural address and weeks of what the Republicans rightly have called a “road show” of blame-game politics. Doesn’t he see that the GOP is addicted to this showdown at Thunder Road? This is all the power the GOP has these days, really — the ability to scare the heck out of everybody and run the car into the ditch.

Much as I would criticize Obama, it’s wrong to say that both sides are equally to blame for what’s about to hit us. This isn’t a one-off case of the Republicans using Obama’s sequestration legislation to force reckless budget cuts. It’s a pattern of behavior: First the Republicans were prepared to shut down the government and damage the national credit rating with their showdown over the debt ceiling; then they were careening toward the “fiscal cliff.” This isn’t a legislative tactic anymore, it’s an addiction.

Where did this recklessness come from? Only a few years ago, George W. Bush was the compassionate conservative and John McCain won the GOP nomination as the Republican who knew how to govern across party lines. What happened to that Republican Party? Today’s Republicans seem to suffer from what’s sometimes known as Obama Derangement Syndrome, in which their hatred of the president blinds them to the country’s interests. To be honest, this malady is eerily similar to the Bush Derangement Syndrome that afflicted Democrats during the previous decade. The Democrats were so incensed back then they stopped caring if America succeeded or failed in Iraq; the Republicans are so angry now that they don’t care if the economy goes to hell.

So how can we get these incapacitated drivers to stop before they do any more damage? If this were really a case of chronic drinkers, the answer would be an intervention to keep them off the road. In politics, the public gets to intervene through elections. We just had one, and the Republicans lost, big time. Yet it didn’t seem to make much difference. The House Republicans are still grabbing for the wheel and the car is rumbling toward trouble.

Obama tries everything to gain control — except a clear, firm presidential statement that speaks to everyone on board, those who voted for him and those who didn’t — that could get the country where it needs to go.

The weird thing is that, politics aside, there is every reason to be optimistic about America’s future. The country’s financial markets are resilient; the housing slump finally seems to be ending; a new era of low-cost shale oil and gas is beginning and, as a result, the U.S. is becoming a competitive manufacturing economy again.

There’s one ruinously dysfunctional part of the American story, and that’s the breakdown of our political system. It’s time for an intervention, to take the keys away.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Paul R Getto 5 years, 3 months ago

Good points here. Time for all of the parties in DC to grow up and make a deal.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 3 months ago

I just got done reading my copy of the Constitution, again. Nowhere does it mention the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. Nowhere does it state we shall have a two party system. While these two parties scramble to gain as much political power as they can, pretending to represent the best interests of their various constituents, we keep voting in these charlatans. They're in it for themselves, not us. If we happen to benefit from time to time, fine. If we don't benefit, each blames the other.

I challenge each and every one of you out there to read up on the various third party candidates running next time around. Carefully consider them. Vote for whomever best represents your views, regardless of whether or not they will win. In the end, we always get the government we deserve.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 3 months ago

In my view, there are no qualified third party candidates. They tend to be much more extreme than anybody in the currently dominant two parties.

The only cure for our political problems is for people to stop following the political rhetoric and demand reforms, but that is not going to happen for at least 10 years in my opinion. We need some people to die off and let the next generation take over.

jonas_opines 5 years, 3 months ago

You seem like an unbiased source whose judgment we can trust implicitly.

voevoda 5 years, 3 months ago

OTO, clearly you are a victim of "Obama Derangement Syndrome," as David Ignatius calls it. A severe case, to judge from your screen name. I wish you a rapid recovery.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 3 months ago

"The country’s financial markets are resilient; the housing slump finally seems to be ending; a new era of low-cost shale oil and gas is beginning"

To a large extent, what's driving the financial markets is the wild speculation on what are almost certainly greatly exaggerated estimates of the available deposits of shale oil and gas. And even if the estimates are correct, because of global warming, we can't use even a small percentage of it without committing suicide. In other words, it's just the latest speculative bubble waiting to burst.

Armstrong 5 years, 3 months ago

Moral of the story - don't get in a car with a drunk driver. For the liberal crew - lern to depend on yourself and not the govt.

Armstrong 5 years, 3 months ago

Quite the opposite. Self reliance, depend on yourself for your own destiny

Abdu Omar 5 years, 3 months ago

When I read: "In my analogy, he should take the steering wheel firmly in hand and drive the car toward the destination where most road maps show we need to be heading — namely, a balanced program of cuts in Social Security and Medicare and modest increases in revenue", I tend to wonder if Ignatius ever has been on, had family who has completely depended upon Social Security or Medicare.

Toning down the amount of the soc sec checks to recipients is really taking away their livlihood and their ability to live. We cannot take away current amounts from citizens who are getting Soc Sec now or hampering Medicare in some way. We need simply to raise the retirement age to 67, and we have solved some of the problem, but we cannot reduce the amount of soc checks.

Katara 5 years, 3 months ago

If you were born in 1960 or later, 67 is the age you can retire with full benefits.

Jason Johnson 5 years, 3 months ago

I blame the American people for voting and revoting people back into power. There are plenty of good third party candidates.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

Third party candidates are usually the low budget spenders meaning the special interest big bucks are not interested.

They know their special interest big bucks now own the incumbents.

Some media people need to do some homework as do politicians.


Then cut corporate welfare to the wealthy across the board…. Absolutely.

The nation has 20 years to adjust Social Security.

--- Killing Social Security Insurance Is Not An Option. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2010/0111orr.html

--- SSI Not Going Broke http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/david_cay_johnston_social_security_is_not_going_broke_20120504/

--- Killing Medicare Insurance is simply not an option. http://www.thenation.com/article/159769/paul-ryans-plan-destroy-medicare

--- INSTEAD we improve medicare insurance to reduce the cost of government. Physicians for a National Health Program http://www.pnhp.org/facts/single-payer-resources AND http://www.healthcare-now.org

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

President Obama and the Democrats have many more options in which to bring this economy around and put the GOP stonewalling out of business.

First off Uncle Sam needs to employ as many workers as necessary to rehab our nations federal highways and bridges that are 70 years old. Even if millions of workers are required.

Second the president should fill all the regulation enforcement vacancies that guard our food,pharmaceuticals,home loans and insurance industries. Fill the IRS vacancies as well.

We do this Robin Hood tax http://www.robinhoodtax.org

Let’s use 10 easy ways to fund what we need to do. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/11/10-easy-ways-avoid-fiscal-cliff

Then we cut more from the Defense Budget. The GOP recently passed a budget that went $1.7 billion over budget requesting pork barrel projects that the military does not want.

Then we relieve taxpayers of the responsibility for guaranteeing construction costs of nuke and coal fired plants. Additionally we relieve taxpayers of the responsibility as the insurance arm of nuke and coal fired plants. These $$$ could be better spent in a more fiscal responsible fashion.

Now we have not only cut off the stonewalling and produced a strong economy we taxpayers now have enough tax dollars available to spend on ourselves

More years of GOP stonewalling has simply got to go!!!!

sciencegeek 5 years, 3 months ago

Ironically, the problem with the radicalization of the House Republicans, and the party in general, was secondary to a long-term power grab they initiated years ago. By gerrymandering districts to guarantee their party would win the seat, they have locked themselves into electing the close-minded ideologues. It was a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court that opened the floodgates; they allowed a district that reached from the northern boundary to the Gulf and only a few miles wide to minimize Democratic voters. More and more states did it (remember our own court-ordered redistricting?) and now the House no longer has to even listen to their constituents.

But, even that could be moderated if more reasonable people took the time to vote. When elections are determined by one party's primary voters, and only the radicals care enough to vote, you end up with gridlock in Washington--and the suppression of dissent and checks-and-balances in Kansas.

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