The government shutdown has rightly dominated the news since the beginning of October. It is beyond disappointing that members of Congress were unable to resolve their ideological differences for the sake of the American people. While the loss of international prestige and the failure of the political system to function will ultimately hurt members of Congress, it is regrettable that ordinary citizens also had to pay the price for the catastrophic failure of leadership in Washington.
As the Republicans and Democrats vehemently disagreed with each other during talks in the House and Senate, their unwillingness to deviate from extreme right- or left-wing positions primarily hurt the American people. Aside from the 800,000 public sector employees furloughed during the shutdown, the impact of this political impasse was frighteningly far-reaching and profound. According to IHS Inc., a Lexington, Massachusetts-based global market-research firm, the shutdown cost $1.6 billion in its first week. Evidently the emergence of ideology as a form of politicking has substantial consequences.
Much of the shift toward radical ideology stems from the redistricting and gerrymandering that is ubiquitous throughout the United States. As the dominant party redraws voting districts to heavily favor its candidates, elected officials are forced to worry about winning the primary instead of the general election. Thus, politicians attempt to satisfy the extremists of the party to ensure reelection. A study by Marina Agranov, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, found that, “in the primary voters elect a candidate they believe to be more extreme.” Since House members now fear the primary more than the general election, the House has developed an increasingly radical faction, particularly within the Republican Party.
Shutting the government down should embarrass Congress and elicit a more fervent desire to resolve national issues for the betterment of the nation as a whole. However, this shutdown merely reaffirmed that those in office care only about winning reelection, which often requires them to pander to their most extreme constituents. For a full three weeks, politicians refused to renounce their most polarizing demands. The mentality that “I won’t give an inch until you give an inch” is not conducive to negotiation, let alone good governance. No wonder the United States government repeatedly resorts to last minute deals to stave off some sort of political calamity—be it the fiscal cliff, the sequester, the near-shutdown of 2011, the actual shutdown of 2013, or the various narrowly-averted debt defaults.
It is time for members of Congress to abandon their rigid adherence to ideology and take the actions needed to find a long-term resolution to the impasse. Instead of filling the airwaves with inflammatory rhetoric or criticizing the opposing party’s unwillingness to negotiate, the nation needs its legislators to do what they were elected to do: debate, compromise, and govern. Throughout our nation’s history, a huge strength of the United States government has been the ability of its leaders to reach agreement on even the most contentious and polarizing issues. Sadly, that is no longer the case. The repeated brinkmanship of the 112th and 113th Congresses indicates that legislators now resort to assigning blame for governmental failures, rather than engaging in constructive negotiations to avert such failures. Until there is a fundamental shift in the operation of Congress, these extremely tense political situations will occur time and time again, with enormous ramifications. The shutdown may be over, but the ideological inflexibility that produced it remains very much alive. The American people deserve better.
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