Barney Frank (may he live a thousand years) takes some hard truths to Politico – “The Self-fulfilling Prophecy of ‘Government Doesn’t Work’“:
It’s easy to see American politics as a situation in which voters are all innocent victims of mistreatment at the hands of elected officials — easy, but wrong. Sure, politicians often fall short, and I’m convinced that the negative bias of the media make it harder to govern responsibly. But the voters are no bargain either…
I’m writing this not to defend my former colleagues in elected office, highly as I regard many of them, but to correct a widespread misperception that not only diverts attention from what needs to be done, but in fact exacerbates the situation. That mistake is assuming that the problem is too many ideological members of Congress, of both parties, who would rather shut things down rather than compromise.
There are two serious flaws in this description. First, it assumes a false equivalence between the parties. It is true that the center of political gravity in each party has moved further from the center. But not equally so. I believe that the recent speakership debacle and the current presidential nominating contest demonstrate that the Republicans have moved further right on the issues than the Democrats have gone left.
But even these who reject this point can’t deny that there’s a stark difference between the parties on the critical question of whether they’re willing to compromise to be sure government functions effectively. One major dividing line between the dominant factions in each party today is, literally, their commitment to government in general, over and above any specific set of policies. Perhaps the biggest shift over the past eight years is how far that commitment has fallen out of favor among those who now dominate Republican primary contests…
The more Americans tell themselves the problem lies with the politicians in office, and the less they admit it’s the responsibility of the voters who elect people unwilling to govern, the worse things will become. Blaming elected officials just deepens the degree of public unhappiness with the political system; this misplaced anger then depresses voter turnout and distorts voters’ choices when they get to the booth.
Once again there is an asymmetry when it comes to party behavior. Nonvoting is more often the response of the angry left than of the angry right. When the latter became increasingly dissatisfied with the response to the 2008 crash, they formed the tea party, the members of which actually increased their disciplined participation in elections. Meanwhile, the most militant on the left created the Occupy movement, with a focus on public displays of their personal rejection of the status quo. Not surprisingly, elected officials were more influenced by voting than by drum circles.
The more the prevailing narrative blames the failures of political insiders for gridlock, leading to voter alienation, the deeper the gridlock and the greater the advantage to the right. It is the people who voted for Barack Obama and then sat out the midterms of 2010 and 2014 who are primarily responsible for his inability to achieve his goals…
Some combination of three things will have to occur to break the logjam. Mainstream conservative Republicans will have to start voting more in primaries and take back their party; unhappy voters on the left will have to realize that being unhappy is a reason to vote, not to sulk; and all voters will have to demonstrate — by really showing up and voting for candidates actually willing to do the hard work of governing — that there is an electoral price to pay for those who believe that fealty to their ideology is the only relevant aspect of holding office.