Divided Government

Dr. Phillip M. Feldman

The deadlock between Democrats and Republicans, both within Congress, and between the executive branch and Congress, reflects the fact that Americans are sharply divided on a range of public policy questions.

I believe that there is some truth in the frequently-heard assertion that Washington is disfunctional because no single political party has the power to govern. We might be better off with a parliamentary system similar to that in the U.K. (but without a monarchy). Such a system guarantees that a single party (or single coalition of parties) controls both the executive and legislative branches of government. This single party might then be able to address the country's pressing problems. At least the present situation, where each party blames the other for the impasse, would be impossible. But, there is no guarantee that the United States would be better off with a parliamentary system. (Look at Greece, where a single party governed for roughly a decade and gradually drove the country to the edge of bankruptcy).

Why do we have divided government? It is partly because of the way our political system works, partly because of regional and class differences in values and attitudes, and partly because a great many Americans are internally conflicted about what they expect from government. Most of us want low taxes, which implies a small, lean government, but at the same time most of us want the government to cushion us against everything that can go wrong and to provide lavish benefits. This kind of thinking is a recipe for the type of fiscal morass in which we presently find ourselves.

Perhaps the root of our problems is that the man and woman on the street, including people with enough education to know better, are eager to elect politicians who make the biggest, most unreasonable promises. Ultimately, we are responsible for this mess.

Last update: 24 Feb, 2013