The Myth of Government Gridlock; It’s the Electorate, Stupid!

Would we trust a politician to conduct neurosurgery on ourselves or on a close relative? Likely not. Then why would we be willing to elect a neurosurgeon to become president of the United States? And while we are it, would we trust an adolescent given to temper tantrums when he cannot have his way to solve government gridlock along with world problems? That would be reckless, too. So, why would we even contemplate electing an authoritarian personality with a knack for erecting tall buildings but with no experience in the political process to the White House?

The cry for the non-professional politician is not new; it became a cornerstone of the Tea Party in 2008. The idea is that after being re-elected to office several times, these individuals become “career politicians” who only seek office to preserve their jobs but without regard for the interests of those they represent. In congressional elections in 2010, 2012, and 2014 quite a few candidates—the majority Republicans– with no previous political experience at the national level were elected to office.

Such popular strategy does not appear to have worked as it has led to bitter conflict between Republicans and Democrats and to increasing disarray among Republicans themselves despite controlling both the Senate and the House. Ironically, the public now holds the legislative branch in very low esteem with only a 13 percent approval rate.

The concept of electing candidates that have little or no knowledge and experience in politics is now being tested within the Republican Party at the presidential level, as three non-traditional politicians (out of fifteen) garner 50 percent of the popular vote. In a twist of logic many voters are clamoring for inexperience suggesting that, in politics, a child perhaps can become a rocket scientist. Such irrationality within the electorate despises experience and knowledge, and treats politics and the political process as a sporting event.

What lies behind this popular attitude? South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley captured the political malaise that is infecting the electorate: “What you’re seeing is that people are angry. Where’s the change? … They’re saying, ‘Look, what you said would happen didn’t happen, so we’re going to go with anyone who hasn’t been elected.’ ” There seems to be a high degree of frustration, disappointment, and the inescapable anger that rises when the collective incapacity of voters fail to produce the expected outcome. This anger is somewhat understandable. At times it feels as if the US Government is on a work slowdown. Very little gets done, certainly not the things we think are important.

But, hold on, there’s more than anger here. Anger, when not properly understood, tends to manifest itself through irrational behavior. Anger throws a monkey wrench into the brain, preventing the gray matter from doing its work. The outcome to this behavior is predictable: voters recur to impulsively seeking rash, even absurd, solutions. Electoral impotence—not being able to have it one’s way—almost guarantees the perpetuity of this vicious cycle. So, if irrational behavior appears to lie at the base of much of our national madness, why blame career politicians?

Again, we may dislike the professional politician, but would we trust our health to a plumber or to an architect? Would we ride in a plane built by a group of ball players? According to this sentiment it appears that knowledge and experience can spring out from nothing; and actually, it can, except that we would have to wait for these “know-nothing” candidates to be re-elected several times and become … well, career politicians. Such mood among voters thrives despite that modern-day government has grown immensely complex, and complexity calls for knowledge of the issues and experience in the political process.

Some would argue that the problem lies in the size of the federal government, and it does. But we cannot set aside the fact that the US Government has grown with the support of both Republicans and Democrats, largely because government has had to keep pace with cultural, technological, moral, economic, political, and military issues and problems that were not in the minds of the Founding Fathers.

So, is it elected officials or the electorate that is mostly at fault for gridlock? The answer seems fairly easy, so easy that it begs itself. Is it possible that we lack such an abysmal knowledge of our own political system that we ignore that it is we who elect the members of the legislative and executive bodies? If the polls provide a different answer it’s because, I believe, they have been asking the wrong questions. If the polls were to ask voters who specifically they hold responsible for gridlock, they likely would reply, ‘those elected officials we did not vote for,’ while absolving the ones they themselves elected.

We are reluctant to see each one of us as part of a highly divided society, ideologically and politically, with little tolerance for compromise and a great deal of animosity towards those who feel differently. We have become political fanatics, treating the political process as if it were a football game; a zero-sum event in which engaging in a dialogue with the opposition is looked upon as being soft towards the enemy. It’s us, not them. Those we elect are simply doing what we the electorate sent them into office to do.

To contact the author copy and paste my e-mail address and send via your e-mail provider. RicardoPlanas@reasonandpolitics.com