A State of Dysfunction

Last month brought a rare instance of bipartisanship when Republicans and Democrats agreed to extend a payroll tax cut. Unfortunately, the moment of comity was overshadowed by an unfortunate reality: the proposed legislation is likely to be the last act of cooperation between the two parties before the November election. Given the ideological divide in Congress, the prospects for substantive action in the remaining months of 2012 are remote.

At a time when the country is beginning a fourth straight year of unemployment above 8 percent, Congress will in effect (if not officially) be in recess, thanks to the impending election. In the next few months, the American public may be treated to political hearings or stem-winding speeches on the House floor, but very little will be going on in the way of serious engagement with the pressing social and political issues of the day.


The increasingly drawn-out presidential election process is high on the list of reasons for this state of affairs. With each state jockeying for the lead position in the Republican primary season, this year’s election cycle was pushed back to early January. The long schedule, coupled with a stunning 20 debates, has provided plenty of distraction for cable news addicts. Yet it has also given the impression that the presidential election is just around the corner, when it is in fact eight months away.

The United States, with its sprawling network of state primaries, will never be able to embrace a shortened election season in the style of the United Kingdom and other parliamentary governments. But the current presidential selection process is unsustainable. One hopes that the problems evident this year will press both parties to make significant changes in the nomination system. Reform is not a pipe dream; in 1968 the backroom deals that traditionally engineered the Democratic nomination finally gave way under the weight of public scrutiny. This year could be another such turning point.

The absurd state of the campaign finance system should help to advance the cause of reform. The two Supreme Court decisions commonly referred to as Citizens United have, in short order, upended the presidential election process. Thanks to wealthy individuals with idiosyncratic agendas, candidates have been able to survive far longer than they would have managed otherwise. Money has fueled the rise of individuals who plainly lack the credentials or temperament to be president. Meanwhile, the primary drags on, each candidate waiting for the next infusion of cash. It is not surprising that some of the most sought after Republican contenders chose to opt out of the race.

In this chaotic environment, President Obama could have stood against the influence of money in politics. Instead, his campaign decided to embrace the “super PAC” system, which allows wealthy individuals to funnel millions of dollars to candidates. Campaign staff members explained that they would not “unilaterally disarm” in anticipation of the November election. Yet in light of the legislative paralysis engendered by this marathon of a campaign season, the president and his staff may wish to reconsider their complicity in our dysfunction. The Oval Office is a unique piece of moral high ground. President Obama would have sent a powerful message if he had eschewed super PAC money in an election year.

With the aid of outside money, President Obama may well win a difficult re-election fight. But then what? The Republicans will surely achieve some notable victories. Super PACs could help put the Senate in the hands of the Republicans, ensuring another two years of political division. Even if the Democrats somehow regain control of both houses, they will have a short window to implement their agenda. Pundits now estimate that the party in power has only 100 days to set a legislative course. After that the public’s attention turns to the midterm elections; and before you know it, the media will look toward 2016, when the horse race can begin again.

As long as the nation is in permanent campaign mode, the promise of legislative progress will remain faint. Reform should focus on two fronts. Shortening the primary season by sponsoring rotating regional primaries is one proposal worth serious consideration. The fewer state contests, the less likely that super PACs can make mischief. Meanwhile, Congress should enact additional disclosure laws to make it clear who is donating to super PACs. Other, more unorthodox finance reforms should also be discussed, like Max Frankel’s proposal (The New York Review of Books, 2/9) that would require a candidate to purchase equal time for an opponent when buying a television ad. Creative thinking and close attention will be required to combat the influence of money in politics and mend our flawed electoral system.

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Leonard Villa
6 years 10 months ago

I am suprised that you seem to support the payroll tax deal given that this is the support needed for social securithy which is already underfunded and a fiscal nightmare! Plus your editorial in tone reveals your slant: the lack of bi-partisanship is due solely to Republicans. Super-PACS are going to help those dastardly Republicans especially if they are conservative! Oh my! Part of the dysfunction which you apparently adhere to is the double standard of a corrupt national media that no longer distinguishes reporting news from editorials. The double standard is one for Republicans and one for Democrats. If the Republicans are in the majority, bi-partisanship becomes an issue which is defined as Republicans abandoning their principles which is never demanded of Democrats. Obama was given a pass on Rev. Wright but Santorum is grilled on a Satan speech in a non-political context to a Catholic audience!

Memo to America Magazine: money will always be in politics unless you live in a police state. The larger dysfunction/intellectual illness is the marvels of ideology (what passes for liberalism/political correctness today) which alters reality as defined by the enlightended to accomodate the vision of the annointed. Hence you simply use issues like race, the poor, gender, social justice etc. as ideological categories rather than objective categories. Thus Bill Clinton is deemed the first black President and not Obama. Bi-partisanship only applies to Republcians. Pregnancy is a disease. Homosexuality/heterosexuality are natural equivalents. The list could go on and on. This ideology by the way is profoundly at odds with the Catholic Faith which is based on objective truth.
Mike Evans
6 years 10 months ago
Sadly we  are saddled with a 'failed state' situation which will prevent any sane and reasonable legislation to pass. Even after that, if Obama wins re-election, he will endure being a four year lame duck president. The vitriolic hate prevails against him and the Republican and super PAC campaigns are laced with racism, anti-intellectualism, and class warfare posing as noblesse oblige. Democrats are all called 'elitists,' immoral, gay, anti-business, pacifist, bleeding hearts, and intent on bribing the poor, the unemployed, women, and all minority racial groups to vote for their ticket. The next congress will still be caught in gridlock; radical right radio hosts will still hurl invective to their ditto-heads, and a truly mean-spirited approach to solving any of our problems will prevail. I despair of any waking up from this nightmare for at least two more election cycles. And people who bend religion to support their mean spirits just cannot be welcomed into any civil or polite society.
E.Patrick Mosman
6 years 10 months ago
The editors strongly agree with the Obama administration's proposal, confirmed by Congress, to  starve the SS "lock box" with its 2% reduction in FICA contributions. to be made up by borrowing from China et al increasing the deficit.
Did the editors also agree when President Bush proposed allowing 2% or so the SS contribution  to be used to set up personal savings accounts. The democrats and AARP went ballistic opposing such a move calling it a raid on the SS system and other outlandish claims. However when Obama cut the contribution by 2% calling it a tax cut so people could spend, not save for their future, democrats applauded, the republicans caved and AARP was silent. This tax cut is nothing more than a political move which the editors support at the expense of the security in Social Security.
E.Patrick Mosman
6 years 10 months ago

Here is why I opposed Obama in 2008 and will oppose him even harder
in 2012.
Had the media spent as much time investigating Barack H Obama's
background as a mini-me Al Sharpton community organizer, his
relationships with Reverend Wright, Rezko, his communist grandparents,
"Frank" the communist role model, and Ayers,the unrepentant terrorist,
as they did on Governor Palin, they would have been found him to be
only a glib, smooth talking operator on a par with Ponzi scheme
promoters, boiler room stock salesman and the run-of-the mill grifters
who pry on the both the greedy and the innocent. In October 2008 Tom
Brokaw sat down with Charlie Rose and both of these wise old pundits
admitted that after Obama had been campaigning for two years they still
know nothing about him as illustrated by the following exchange about
candidate Obama between Tom Brokaw and Charlie Rose in October 2008
after Obama had been campaigning for two years.
ROSE: I don't know what Barack Obama's worldview is.
BROKAW: No, I don't, either.
ROSE: I don't know how he really sees where China is.
BROKAW: We don't know a lot about Barack Obama and the universe of his
thinking about foreign policy.
ROSE: I don't really know. And do we know anything about the people
who are advising him?
BROKAW: Yeah, it's an interesting question.
ROSE: He is principally known through his autobiography and through
very aspirational (sic) speeches.
BROKAW: Two of them! I don't know what books he's read.
ROSE: What do we know about the heroes of Barack Obama?
BROKAW: There's a lot about him we don't know.
Mr. Obama's past was and still is written in invisible ink, no high
school records, no college records, no SAT scores, no university
records, no GPAs from any school, no written dissertations,no
questioning of his Pakistan trip, what passport was used , who was
visited, who paid, the proverbial "pig in a poke". Mr. Obama's written
record are two 'memoirs' one rather poorly written and the second more
scholarly that some question the authorship. Rolling over for a
political person is par for the course for the political media. America
bought the 'pig in a poke' and found not a rock but a
marxist/socialist wanna-be diktator.
His goals are clear and as Norman Thomas, the long time Socialist party
candidate predicted:
"The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under
the name of 'liberalism' they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist
program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without
knowing how it happened."

Vince Killoran
6 years 10 months ago
Wow-even after reading an article that is critical of BO there are the tired comments that it isnt't enough, i.e., that it is the media's job to destroy the President.  Some of the comments above are plain paranoid and not grounded in fact (e.g., BO is a neo-liberal and yet he is condemned as a sociaist). 

Re. Patrick Mosman's pasting of a Brokaw-Rose exchange: isnt this evidence that this two wimpy moderate liberals criticized Obama?  If it's the 2008 campaign on which you would like to focus I would argue that McCain came under very little scrutiny for his "worldview."  I did enjoy the murmmers, however, that McCain wasn't eligible to be president since he wasn't born in the USA and that he was a reckless pilot who should have been run out of the Navy. Maybe we should have heard much more about that.

As for Frank Tantillo's "memo to America," money doesn't dominate many political campaign systems and these aren't dictator-run countries unless your consider Canada and Australia authoritarian regimes. 
E.Patrick Mosman
6 years 10 months ago
Mr. Killoran brings a whole new meaning to the word 'criticize'

: to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly 

: to find fault with
to point out the faults of
by using the word to describe two elderly political  punidits procaliming that after two years they know nothing about Obama to offer an opinion on to the public.

Nichole Flores
6 years 10 months ago
"As long as the nation is in permanent campaign mode, the promise of legislative progress will remain faint." I agree with this argument.  Legislative paralysis during the protracted election season, perpetuated by a lack of political creativity and humility on both sides of the aisle, hinders our government's capacity to strengthen the common good.  My question is, how can Catholic political participants (politicians, voters, commenters) upset this pernicious dymanic?  Certainly not by digging our in our heels, suffering from the same lack of political imagination as the larger culture.  As the faithful of a deep and nuanced tradtion, how can Catholic public leaders, especially the laity, advocate for legistation that fosters human dignity and freedom, even during epic electoral seasons? 
C Walter Mattingly
6 years 10 months ago
Vince is a socialist, and has the integrity to say so in this commentary. You shouldn't expect him to oppose the conclusions of Rose and Brokaw; what they fear is more or less what Vince hopes for. And that's perfectly OK with me. Vince is
up front and honest, not a dissembler such as Barack Obama. 
E.Patrick Mosman
6 years 10 months ago
Mr. Mattingly,
Thanks for the advice. Mr.Killoran wrote
"BO is a neo-liberal and yet he is condemned as a sociaist."
Is there a difference?
I doubt that Norman Thomas would recognize any difference..Obama's policies are the capstone of the prediction made by Norman Thomas, the long time Socialist party Presidential candidate:
"The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under
the name of 'liberalism' they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist
program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without
knowing how it happened."
The media, including America, is the medium that keeps the people ignorant of the ultimate goal of turning the USA into the USSA.


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