Columns 22.10.2013 09:00 am

Something is rotten in America

Andrew Kenny.

Andrew Kenny.

Something has gone horribly wrong with politics in the United States of America, and the whole world could suffer.

Dramatic confirmation of this problem came this month when the US Congress seemed unable to approve the budget, without which the government could not pay its employees.

It also almost refused to raise the levels of national debt, which could mean the US defaulting on debt payments to other countries.

The US is the world’s biggest debtor but her debt is seen as being very secure. US Treasury Bonds are regarded as the world’s safest investment. Other countries, notably China, own trillions of dollars of US debt.

If the US defaulted, that confidence would evaporate, and there would be a world financial disaster. Why did Congress struggle to approve these two items?

The core of the problem is that American politics has become dangerously polarised between the two parties, Republican and Democrat. Fifty years ago, politics in the US, although lively, seemed quite genial and diverse.

You could have friends in the other party. There was a lot of overlap: you could agree with the Democrats on some things and with the Republicans on others.

No more. Today the country is divided into two armed camps who hate each other. You are either totally Republican or totally Democrat. The party bosses on each side have helped to draw the boundaries of the voting districts for the House of Representatives (435 seats) so that within each district the voters are either overwhelmingly Republican or overwhelmingly Democrat.

If you become the candidate for the majority party in your district you are guaranteed to be elected, however incompetent and bigoted you are. So your concern is not the voters of the country but the ideologues in your own party who chose the candidates. Ideologues in the Republican Party hate President Barack Obama, especially for “Obamacare”, his complicated system to ensure all people have private medical insurance.

Although it had been passed into law, they refused to pass the budget unless it was altered. They didn’t care that most people thought this outrageous. They didn’t care because they were in safe seats, guaranteed to be re-elected. Something must be done to make US politicians responsible to the people, not the party.

 

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