Making Government Work

Washington Needs to Be Fixed. These Innovators Aren’t Waiting for Congress to Do It.

November 19, 2013
by
Menu
Washington Needs to Be Fixed. These Innovators Aren’t Waiting for Congress to Do It.
congress government shutdown protests
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A user’s guide to the groups trying to haul our broken government out of the ditch.

Do you remember where you were when the government shut down? Chances are we’d have to be more specific. Lawmakers–who these days are not doing so much of the making–have quibbled so many times over debt ceilings and defaults and health care and taxes that stalemate is officially the new normal.

And that countdown clock you see on cable news, ticking away toward the next shutdown? Let’s just say the producers have it bookmarked in their graphics file.

It’s no wonder that the record levels of toxicity dripping from the halls of Congress has spurred some fresh minds to come up with a way around it. Political groups committed to breaking through the logjam/stalemate/gridlock that is The District have been trying for a few years now to gain ground among the independent minded and those just sick of all the stalling. But thus far, their efforts have yet to move all those alienated voters to action; their names remain barely known outside the Beltway.

Recently Americans like you expressed a huge jump in faith in Congress–all the way up to 19 percent!

But when people say they’re sick of the do-nothing atmosphere, they almost always blame the party they like least, says John Sides, who writes The Monkey Cage, a straight-shooting political science blog now hosted by The Washington Post. No matter which shutdown it is, Democrats blame Republicans, and the other way around.

“Part of the problem is just that independent groups and third parties are naturally disadvantaged by the rules of the American electoral system,” Sides says. “Compared to a system of proportional representation, winner-take-all elections tend to produce two-party systems.”

NationSwell reached out to the would-be compromisers to see what they’ve done and what they’re planning to do.

[ph]

[ph]

[ph]

[ph]


Is it time to abandon all hope, ye who enter Washington? Probably. There are countless interest groups in D.C., forming and folding every year. They’ve been around since the Progressive Era, when the notion became popular that political people could organize around an issue rather than a party. But in the past two decades, says Michael Heaney, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, nearly every issue has been approached by each party with the goal of leveraging it into a partisan weapon.

“That’s part of the reason why it’s harder for these groups to find a third way,” he says. “There’s not just very much space in American politics right now for nonpartisan political organizing.”

Still, every so often, one of them breaks through to swing a debate–usually familiar players like the AARP, or the Chamber of Commerce. “It’s conceivable that these groups could make a difference,” Heaney says, “but it’s very tough to do so.”

Comments