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When Democracy Stops Working


The recent circus in Washington, D.C.  over the Continuing Budget Resolution and the Debt Ceiling has served to highlight the inability of our elected politicians, from the president down to the lowliest freshman congressman, to solve the country’s political problems.


I admit that the fight should never have happened. In the first place, Congress should have worked out budget agreements that would be suitable for both parties long ago. The blame goes to both parties. Democrats in the Senate failed to pass a  budget for four years and when they did, Republicans refused to continue funding the government as the budget expired, unless Obamacare was defunded or delayed. Talks that should have occurred over a new budget did not take place. Secondly, there should be no “debt ceiling.” We have to increase our debt limit so long as we are still servicing a large debt and have not balanced the federal budget. Other countries in similar situations, simply keep borrowing more money and debate over the budget, not over a ceiling on their debt limit (admittedly, some of our European friends have gotten themselves over their heads in debt).


OK, so the debates should never have occurred. But they did. And neither side has distinguished itself as either smart or noble in the show in Washington. Both sides have asserted their point and then refused to move beyond it prior to any discussion with the other side.


The result has been a total breakdown of governmental function. Politicians are supposed to be smart negotiators… aren’t they? Watch Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and see how Honest Abe did it (how many of us hoped that Barack Obama would watch this movie and learn something). Make Lyndon Johnson your modern role model. Ask Bill Clinton how he dealt with Newt Gingrich. Or vice-versa.


We elect our representatives to work with each other and make our government function. If they do not do this, they are not putting any of our wishes into effect, unless we are anarchists and don’t want our government to function at all.


Again, we must remind ourselves that everyone in Washington is at fault here. No one has extended a hand to the other side. I can’t help but think that the way each side is approaching the issue of the budget in Washington is the way America is approaching its role in world politics—do whatever we want and refuse to talk about it with anyone else. This is an ominous sign of  American hubris. The lesson here is that if you take a stance, based upon absolute certainty that you are right and refuse to negotiate because of that certainty, you are risking becoming estranged from both the view of those to whom you, in theory, report (i.e. the citizens),  as well as to  reality.


Many of us feel certainty. But  because we are all human and subject to our native and environmentally produced biases, our certainty is no guarantee that we are right. We are a social species and despite Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and other great figures in history, real progress of our species and culture has been the product of social structures that supported wholesale cultural movement because of a shared view of the goals of our civilization, not the implementation of the narrow vision of a single person or a small minority. We need to develop such a shared view of what our American civilization is supposed to look like. Our politicians have an obligation both to lead us and to talk to each other in furthering such a shared view.


The Editor



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    Democracy contrasts with forms of government where power is either held by an individual, as in an absolute monarchy, or where power is held by a small number of individuals, as in an oligarchy.
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