The idea that the US form of democracy tends towards dysfunction is hardly new around this blog. In fact, remarks to that effect can be found in the “mission statement” that has been up from the early seedling days of this virtual orchard. Thus I have not had anything to say till now about the current “government shutdown” (which really isn’t, but I digress).
Others, however, have made the point. Such as Dylan Matthews, “The shutdown is the Constitution’s fault” and Dave Shelton, “What if it’s not the politicians’ fault?“. ((Dave is a former student of mine from the masters program in International Relations at UCSD, so I am particularly proud of his post!)) Also good, although not making the institutional point is John Patty, “The Inherent Tension Between Responsive & Responsible Governing“.
Good. I mean, these points, not the shutdown. What Republicans are doing–demanding a delay (or more) of the president’s signature policy accomplishment or else no funding for various government functions–is extreme. But it is not wrong. They have the right to exercise the veto over the institution they control. What Obama is doing–attempting to protect his authority–is also not wrong. The US constitution makes the executive extraordinarily weak in its ability to accomplish an agenda even if it is very “strong” in terms of not being subject to the legislature’s confidence.
If there are some characteristics of this “shutdown” that are fundamentally different from the seventeen prior ones since 1976, it is only because US politics is up against fundamentally clashing principles: institutional checks and balances that assume weak parties vs. increasingly strong and “polarized” parties that would better fit a system that lets one advance its agenda between elections and be accountable for it at the next election.