The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editorials

October 2, 2013

New lessons on the old shutdown problem

Why it matters: A government shutdown is not only bad for the economy, it should be embarrassing to Americans

From the coffee shops to the pubs, Americans are frustrated their duly elected leaders can’t figure out how to operate our government in a reasonable way.

It may be no panacea for those folks, but it’s worth discussing how we let it get this far out of hand, out of control.

American democracy and its practice has changed a lot since the last government shutdown about two decades ago.

Political parties have become more susceptible to special interests, making it all the more difficult for citizens to have even an equal say. Money flows more easily into campaigns and individuals or small groups can now influence an election where once it required a large amount of people making small contributions.

Part of that influence has even driven court decisions in certain states that influence where congressional boundary lines are drawn. Critics argue the intransigence of the GOP House tea party movement is bolstered by more and more of these representatives coming from districts that are so dominated by one brand of political thought, the representatives have no worries about re-elections, sometimes for decades.

This kind of concentration of power without accountability also derails the old time power of political party leaders. One only needs to witness how little control Speaker John Boehner has over his tea party caucus to see how this has shifted the power of political party leaders, once key players in Washington. Often decried, these political leaders were sometimes necessary evils. They were key players because they knew how to work with the other side to get things for their members. Maybe it was a road project in their district, or a sought committee assignment.

Those kind of power centers seem to be fading away quickly. The tools for some of that power wielding also have gone away, some say for the better. There are no more “earmarks.” While that kind of backdoor dealing was widely criticized, it often served a useful purpose for party leaders. We’ll bet Boehner wishes he had the power of earmarks today.

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