Why the Debt Panel Failed
Today it became official. This U.S. Congress is incapable of making balanced and judicious policy decisions. The failure of the specially created “supercommittee” of 12 congressional members to reach even a partial compromise on mandatory budget cuts and revenue increases is telling. Republicans and Democrats have simply decided to stop working with one another. They have forfeited all responsibility to govern. They have, therefore, forfeited all claim on the public trust. When my son asked tonight, I could not name a single Congressman or Congresswoman that I admired, trusted, or even supported strongly. Respect needs to be earned, and those in Congress have not earned it over the last year.
We have been here before. Think of the U.S. Congresses in the 1850s, the 1880s, and the 1920s. They did not establish a strong record or a broad mandate for public trust. These U.S. Congresses, like our own today, gave reason for the public to invest its support elsewhere: in the president, in the courts, in business, and in local governments. Our representatives in Washington have forced this same choice upon us. Our big national problems are not going to be solved by the incapable members of Congress; solutions will have to come from elsewhere in our society. The failure of the debt panel makes that point irrefutable.
My bet is not on the business community. My bet is not on “expert” technocrats with fancy degrees. Instead, I have faith in educated citizens who are taking matters into their own hands by starting local organizations, mobilizing people, investing in public philanthropy, and even “occupying” some of their city streets to voice their opinions. These educated citizens are using technology and social networking, intellectual study and media savvy, to shift our politics. I can feel it happening. The debt panel was the tired old politics; the local political dynamism around us is the new movement.
As with all periods of political transition, change is rough and scary. The old regime clings to power as long as it can. The new political framework is hard to see amidst all the contention and controversy. It is nonetheless there. Angry, educated citizens are more motivated to do something than ever before in recent memory. Representatives in Congress are incapable of meeting public demands. All the “special interest” money in the world will not sustain this imbalance. Expect the failure of the debt panel to mark the emerging success of something new in American politics…perhaps a renewed attention to fairness, equality, and merit-based accountability. We might even call this renewed democracy, after a year of self-defeating partisan warfare.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.