Broken

Danny Westneat suggests that Olympia has ceased to be relevant. Writing for the Seattle Times, he decries political paralysis, which, he believes, has become the “new normal.”

In his column, Westneat indirectly refers to this Vox piece written by Matthew Yglesias. It is headlined “American democracy is doomed.” And it is its very structure, embodied in the U.S. Constitution, that is to blame. He writes:

The idea that America’s constitutional system might be fundamentally flawed cuts deeply against the grain of our political culture. But the reality is that despite its durability, it has rarely functioned well by the standards of a modern democracy. The party system of the Gilded Age operated through systematic corruption. The less polarized era that followed was built on the systematic disenfranchisement of African-Americans. The newer system of more ideological politics has solved those problems and seems in many ways more attractive. But over the past 25 years, it’s set America on a course of paralysis and crisis — government shutdowns, impeachment, debt ceiling crises, and constitutional hardball. Voters, understandably, are increasingly dissatisfied with the results and confidence in American institutions has been generally low and falling. But rather than leading to change, the dissatisfaction has tended to yield wild electoral swings that exacerbate the sense of permanent crisis.

Tragedy lurks, since so much is at stake. Westneat concludes:

Locally, when I was calling around to interested parties asking about their lobbying on some big-ticket items before the state Legislature, I mostly got scoffed at. The Legislature is a sideshow, they said. From climate change to minimum wage to tax policy to, yes, the death penalty, the feeling is major policy changes will only come through a well-financed initiative, an executive order, or not at all.

This is a bad road we’re going down. For all their foibles, legislatures are still better places to solve public problems than the alternatives. They should try doing it again sometime.