Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dysfunctional Politics?

Last week Gail and I watched a PBS documentary on Harry Truman and found the parallels between the presidential election of 1948 and the current election striking. Anytime you turn on the news you can’t get away from media attention on our supposed dysfunctional government and the inability of our political leaders to compromise. Is today’s political dysfunction unique in our history? Not really, it’s par for the course.
  • Go back to the presidential election of 1984, the rancor then over tax policy and federal deficits sounds eerily familiar to what we hear on the presidential campaign trail today.
  • The relationship between the president and congress in 1948 parallels what is happening in Washington today. Issues such as the proper role of government and the question of free enterprise vs. government overreach were as key then as they are now.
While compromise remains critical to our collective history, political compromise at the federal level seems to happen more often during narrow windows of opportunity either before or after elections. Beyond that both parties tend to stay in their corners, hardening their differences and waiting for the next election to settle them.

If you are interested in some historical perspective on the nature of political division in the United States, pick up a copy of Ed Larson’s A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign. Gail and I got to know Ed while at Pepperdine University and this book will reveal that both partisan rancor and nasty, personal politics are a part of our country’s DNA. Later this year John Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power promises to shed some light on the origins of current debates on freedom, economic vibrancy, and the role of the state.

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