The Midterms and American Gridlock

Today is Election Day! And though I’m writing on a Tuesday and this won't get published until Wednesday, I still want to take a crack at a change that I am 99.9% sure will happen. I speak of the inevitability of the Republican Senate takeover. Cue the spooky music.

So with a Republican House and Senate and a Democrat in the White House, we could well assume that not much will get done in the next two years, right? Not exactly. A few experts have actually posited that Obama’s foreign policy goals could gain traction after the impending switch. Of course, it does help that many of his foreign policy goals are fairly in line with conservative values. The primary two issues are new trade deals with the EU and several Asian countries and a new-look strategy to combat the Islamic State.

From here it looks fairly standard. Leaders from both sides of the proverbial aisle agree, in principle, on the ways to handle these two issues. Will we see some action out of government gridlock after all? Obviously no one knows quite yet, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone who would favor it.

The reason that things won’t go smoothly is – wait for it – politics. Though Obama won’t be eligible for re-election in 2016, many feel that if the Republicans work with Obama on key issues, he will get the credit, which will help Democrats in the 2016 elections. Even reading over that is depressing, not only as someone with a vested interest in government affairs, but as an average American citizen.

To be sure, gridlock seems to be the latest trend in the American political climate. However, no one can be sure whether the results that end in gridlock are done on purpose or are just a side effect of ever-increasing ideological polarization.

The last few elections have been characterized by cycles of dominant one-party control and subsequent gridlock. I think that it’s plausible to say Americans don’t prefer one party to have complete control and would rather that the two sides compromise on major issues. Unfortunately, with increasing polarization, compromise seems to be in short supply these days. But is compromise too much to ask from our elected officials? You should be screaming at your computer, "No!"

To address the issue of political gridlock, one must also examine the political system to see if it has roots in political institutions. In my opinion, the most pressing issues hindering our political system and exacerbating gridlock are:

  • Gerrymandering
  • Term limits
  • Salaries

One need not look hard to see some horrendous politics at play in redistricting to uneven the playing field in some congressional districts. Gerrymandering not only increases polarization, but also disenfranchises voters of the minority party. Addressing this problem would require an independent and corruption-free body to re-democratize the redistricting process.

Furthermore, members of Congress might find it easier to do their jobs if they didn’t always live under the specter of re-election. Give them term limits so that they can focus on work for an enumerated amount of time.

Additionally, the amount that our elected officials get paid is, at least in my opinion, way too high. These high salaries attract power-seeking individuals; coupled with the lack of term limits, it should come as no surprise that officials institutionalize the system (gerrymander) so that they can stay for long periods of time. Being an elected official should be seen as a public service to your community, not a path to a better paycheck.

These are just a few solutions to systemic problems in our political system. The better our democracy runs, the more we can get done. And the more we get done, the better we exemplify democratic rule of law around the world. Gridlock may be in our immediate future, but we can do our best to make sure that Congress still works efficiently, lest we run into more of this.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.

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