To the editor:
Our federal government is shutdown. It’s frustrating. It’s embarrassing. How did we get here?
There have often been strong ideological movements in American politics (think Goldwater and McGovern). Despite this, Democrats and Republicans somehow found ways to compromise and govern. Though sharp ideological contrasts have grown in recent decades, what’s really changed is the structure of politics, making partisanship more common and compromise rarer.
Let’s be clear: There was no golden age in Washington when everyone agreed on everything and sang “Kumbaya” around a campfire in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. But 40 years ago, the rules and organizing framework of politics made it easier for the two parties to work together. Since then, a series of changes has led to increased partisanship, including redistricting, narrowcasting of media, anti-Obama sentiment (racial and otherwise) and the weakening of institutional party power.
This may sound depressing, but it’s entirely fixable — though it will take time. Compromise is essential, but before we ask President Obama to compromise with House Republicans consider this: The Affordable Care Act passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by the president. It was confirmed by the Supreme Court. And don’t forget, President Obama was then re-elected after his opponent, Mitt Romney, vowed that his first act as president would be to overturn “Obamacare.” President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.