Kyle Scott’s op-ed in today’s ProJo, “Gridlock comes out of healthy conflict” maintains that “as frustrating as the gridlock in Washington may be to most Americans we must keep in mind that this is the way it is supposed to work and that the gridlock is actually a good thing.”
Scott’s piece draws on the writings of Madison, Hamilton and Jay in The Federalist Papers as well as Roman historians such as Sallust and Livy to make his argument that the only real alternative to inefficiency in congressional decision making is the efficiency of totalitarian autocracies. This is a false dichotomy should be obvious since there is an entire range of ways in which to organize a political system that fall between Scott’s extremes.
There is, however, some truth in Scott’s piece, in that the way the United States government is set up provides a series of checks and balances on power, and that the two-chamber system we use for our Congress pushes the legislative branch towards compromise on difficult issues. But gridlock, despite what Scott might have us believe, is not compromise, gridlock is a failure of government to compromise.
Scott says, “…when you find yourself getting frustrated with Washington gridlock keep in mind this is how things are supposed to work and that it is better than the existing alternatives.” He is wrong. Gridlock is not the way government works. It’s the way government doesn’t work. In fact, rather than arising out of “healthy conflict” gridlock in Congress arises from income and wealth inequality.
Rather than depend on the historical perspective of long dead political writers, Nolan McCarthy, Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal focused on the relationship between voter partisanship and income from 1956 to 1996. Their paper, Political Polarization and Income Inequality shows an “uncanny” proximity between political polarization (what Scott would call “healthy gridlock”) and economic inequality.
The obvious reason for this relationship is that big money in politics buys big influence. Republicans are more inclined to support policies that favor the 1% and to believe that government is ineffective. Gridlock, which brings government to a crawl and impedes its effectiveness, thereby becomes not just a tactic of the right, but the goal. Big money supports those politicians who will best stymie government.
Scott’s piece attempts to recast our government’s inability to do something as simple, perfunctory and necessary as raising the debt ceiling as being part of the Founding Father’s original intent.
Republican state Senator Dawson Hodgson apparently buys into this conservative fantasy, tweeting, “Thoughtful piece from today’s ProJo about the protective and inclusive nature of political conflict.”
When I countered that “Legislative gridlock is related to greater economic inequality. Reducing the effectiveness of government is not good” Hodgson trotted out his usual, tired arguments rather than confront the point I was making, suggesting that I “Contrast Washington gridlock and RI inaction: evenly matched sides at stalemate vs ultra-majority rule producing no progress.”
Hodgson’s reply is nonsense. Due to the prevalence of DINOs in the General Assembly, Smith Hill very often suffers from the same gridlock as Washington, and the causes are they same: wealth and income inequality allowing monied interests to warp politics and grind government to a halt.