The American public has lost patience with Washington. The question is, now what?
Congress is unable to do its job. It displays neither competence nor responsibility. It lurches — reeling from crisis to crisis, each one self-manufactured in an effort to postpone the reckoning from some earlier crisis. It shut the government down over a temporary budget. Now it’s threatening the financial credibility of the U.S. government and the security and safety of the American people. Three years of last-minute spending decisions have culminated in a television standoff with no actual negotiations.
Too many members of Congress reject the notion that accommodation and time-honored procedures allow them to fulfill their responsibilities to the American people. They use their legislative skill to engage in brinksmanship, rather than address the country’s fundamental problems. Economic growth? Creating jobs? Putting the federal budget on a sustainable path? Don’t look to Congress. They’re too busy coming up with the next short-term tactic to confront the other side. Every day they dither, they keep the government from addressing the nation’s real problems.
Even worse, they’ve managed to raise real questions in this country and abroad about whether our system of government can work. Are we saddled with a national legislature paralyzed by unending conflict? Are we capable of tackling our major problems? We are on the road to a government that cannot plan, a country shackled by perpetual uncertainty, and a loss of faith in our institutions both at home and abroad.
We do not have to continue down that road, but we do have to confront a core problem. The political center in Congress has weakened to the point of ineffectiveness, if not near-irrelevance.
That’s fine with some people in Washington, who are comfortable with gridlock and don’t think its consequences will be dire. Our government’s inability to deal with problems, they argue, is good — a government that’s able to act, they believe, creates more problems than it solves.
Likewise, some people acknowledge polarization as a problem, but blame it on an electorate that prefers a divided government, split between the parties. All I can say is that divided government in the past — think Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill — didn’t keep Congress from creatively addressing national challenges. Divided government is not easy, but it is not unusual, and it can work.
Politicians don’t deserve all the blame. Voters share responsibility: more people have to turn out to vote. The more people who vote, the better the chances to strengthen the political center — that is, moderates and pragmatists. That’s because low turnout brings out the most ideologically intense voters, who in turn reward the most polarizing candidates. A Congress more representative of the American people rests on expanding efforts to convince people to vote, and beating back the barriers to voting.
The second solution lies with members of Congress. Contemplating a government shutdown, a Kentucky congressman recently explained his stance by saying, “All that really matters is what my district wants.” This is not an uncommon view, but it’s a distressingly limited one. Our system depends on members who believe it’s also their responsibility to lead and inform voters, who are willing to weigh the national interest, as well as parochial concerns, and who have confidence in our system to resolve political differences.
In other words, we need members of Congress devoted to making the system work. We need men and women in office who understand that when the voters give us a divided government, they have no choice but to accept the distribution of power and work with it, regardless of what they wish were the case. We need legislators who realize that those on the other side feel just as passionately and deserve their respect, and who are committed to finding a solution to our problems.
We change laws in our democracy and solve our most difficult issues in this country not by bringing government to a halt, but by fighting out the issues before the voters in an election. At the end of the day, we have to move the country forward — and we need to elect members of Congress who are willing and able to do that.
Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.
The American public has lost patience with Washington. The question is, now what?
Readers’ Forum: Aug. 1, 2014
• Oppose killing, vote for peace
• Unbiased truth of property taxes
• Bravos for plays by young thespians
Readers’ Forum: July 31, 2014
• Stamp of approval
• Great job, WAXI
- Readers’ Forum: July 30, 2014
Readers’ Forum: July 29, 2014
• Anything goes with the liberals
• Deserter does not deserve discharge
• Outrage lacking on IRS scandal
Readers’ Forum: July 28, 2014
• Tea party folks misunderstood
• We have only us to blame
- Readers' Forum: July 27, 2014
Flashpoint: Why incumbents keep getting re-elected
Nearly three-quarters of Americans want to throw out most members of Congress, including their own representative, yet the vast majority of incumbents will be returning to Capitol Hill in January.
Flashpoint: Spreading the good word about marriage equality
If you blinked over the past month, you probably missed some news about marriage equality in Indiana.
- Readers’ Forum: July 25, 2014
Readers’ Forum: July 24, 2014
• Clinic will expand basic health access
• Misunderstanding truth about Islam
- Readers’ Forum: July 23, 2014
Readers’ forum: July 22, 2014
• Supt. Ritz has right to govern
• A tribute to a teacher
• Rep. Pelosi shows ‘bungling idiocy’
Readers’ forum: July 20, 2014
• ‘Hotel Indiana’ has a sour tune
• Kind words about the newspaper
• Some questions about RTL video
• No mercy for cop killers
• Crack down on gun violence
• Anti-Dem tirades mask GOP failures
• Important day for participants
• Appreciation for support
FLASHPOINT: Solve our border crisis
More than 60,000 unaccompanied alien children — mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — have been apprehended on America’s southern border during this fiscal year.
Flashpoint: Will Gov. Pence be true to his word?
This is written in response to recent remarks made by State Board of Education members.
- Readers’ Forum: July 18, 2014
READERS’ FORUM: July 17, 2014
• Civil rights and burning cities
• Quality service from Baesler’s
FLAHSPOINT: Supt. Glenda Ritz ‘creating conflict’
It has been my pleasure for the past year to serve as the newest member of the Indiana State Board of Education. I bring a fresh perspective to the board as an attorney and business executive who served as Director of Economic Development under former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and President of the Indy Partnership, a regional economic development organization charged with recruiting new companies to our state.
Readers’ Forum: July 16, 2014
• The truth about property taxes
Readers’ Forum: July 15, 2014
• Are Fed policies hurting America?
• Staying true to code of respect
Readers’ Forum: July 14, 2014
• Where did the 61 cents go?
Readers’ Forum: July 13, 2014
• Telling the truth about smoking
• Larger energy bills on the way, thanks to EPA
• Embrace the compassion, not self-righteousness
• Wondering about country’s leaders
• New amendments have hurt country
- Readers’ Forum: July 11, 2014
READERS' FORUM: July 10, 2014
• Herb Faire a great success
• Appreciation for a ‘lovely angel’
• Thanks for stirring fireworks show
Readers’ Forum: July 9, 2014
• Don’t eliminate our six-day mail
• Zamperini death stirs memories
Readers’ Forum: July 8, 2014
• T-S ignores common decency
• Lighten up on Donald Sterling
• Time to reject Dems in Congress
• Fueling the EPA
Readers’ Forum: July 7, 2014
• The moral issue is major issue
Readers’ Forum: July 6, 2014
• Coats ignoring climate science
• Do those mustache posters exist?
• Utility rate freeze took determination
• What perversion is next in line?
• Opinions vary, but voters will decide
• This preaching must stop — now
• Golf fundraiser a huge success
- Readers’ Forum: July 4, 2014
Readers’ Forum: July 3, 2014
• Over the top on immigration
- More Letters Headlines
- Readers’ Forum: Aug. 1, 2014