Jonathan Chait wrote a really good article today, This Terrible Joke Explains the Midterm Elections. The terrible joke is the one about the drunk looking under a streetlight where he did not drop his keys because, “The light is better here!” He says that everyone is fretting about the Senate because it is contested. No one is fretting over the House, because it is not contested. Of course, it is the House that is responsible for the gridlock in Washington. It’s a good point.
It goes deeper. People are forever claiming that they don’t like the fact that people in Washington don’t get anything done. But they don’t vote in a way that would get things done. This is where the extremists on both sides have it right. If you have a Republican controlled White House and Congress, things will get done. Now, I think those will be awful things. I’m much happier with Obama as president getting little done than I would be with Romney passing huge tax cuts for billionaires. But the people who are always fretting about gridlock don’t say they want specific policies; they just want “work” to get done.
Note that these people were none too happy when the Democrats were getting stuff done. They only think that work is right and proper if the two sides come together. And guess what? That doesn’t happen anymore! The two parties are far apart ideologically. But the anti-gridlock gang is just as ideological as I am or as Ted Cruz is. It is just that their ideology is in the center. (Sadly, their ideology is usually pretty much what Democratic presidents offer, but they can’t admit that because a big part of their ideology is that they are the reasonable center.)
I still don’t understand this idea that centrists are not ideological. In practice, they usually have extreme positions that are all over the place. And by far the most common form of centrism is social liberalism and economic conservatism. Think: William Saletan. What is a hoot is that such people are certain that “the people” agree with them. But it is just the opposite. The actual people side with the Republicans on most social issues and with the Democrats on most economic issues. They don’t side with the centrists on much of anything at all!
It ought to go without saying that everyone wants Washington to accomplish stuff — but only if they agree on the policies. But I’m sure that the commentators can cite polls that claim that people want politicians to get along. That’s great! It’s meaningless, but great. All else being equal, it is better for people to get along than not get along. But all else is never equal. Saying that people want Washington to work better is like saying that parents should properly care for their children: a statement so uncontroversial that it meaningless.
So we are left with a House of Representatives, populated by at least a hundred loons — people who have no interest in governing. And they are there for two reasons. One is that the United States is set up to be anti-democratic. We could conceivably do something about that. But the other reason has no easy solution. About 20% of the people everywhere are crazy. And now we have a 24-hour cable news channel and countless radio stations and the internet to stir up these crazy people. I really don’t know what we do about that.
None of this should be taken as a reason not to vote. I take it for granted that anyone who reads this site will vote. But if you can get someone else to vote that would be great. Regardless, voting is the most basic responsibility of citizenship. And sadly, the crazy right is made up of really good voters. That’s why 20% of the population can bring our republic to a halt. But not if the rest of us consistently vote.