Eroding faith in politics

The madness of a government shutdown has a corrosive effect, not only on markets and morale, but also on young people who otherwise would gravitate to public life. That’s the intangible fallout, the post-traumatic slow burn. Paralysis in D.C. discourages the best and motivates the worst.

The blame game? Yes, hidebound Republicans in the U.S. House are responsible (or more specifically, a faction of hidebound Republicans). However, when families are turned away from Mount Rainier National Park today, when civilian military employees learn they won’t get paid, the blame is evenly spread. The impasse becomes a metaphor, the way not to get things done.

The visceral impulse is to throw the bums out, although that opportunity is a full 14 months away (note: officeholders and their families often take offense at the term “bums”). Most lawmakers work extremely hard. The challenge is ideological. Red states get redder, blue states get bluer, and never the polarizers shall meet.

Obamacare, with its overshadowed launch today, is the lightning rod. The law needs tweaking, but de-funding it again and again is theater, not leadership,

There are three things citizens can do, none of which, sadly, ameliorates the short-term pain. Item one is to dismantle Washington’s redistricting commission, which has become a catalyst for protecting incumbents. The commission, created after the 1980 census, was designed to depoliticize an inherently political exercise. It’s done just the opposite, with horse-trading that protects both parties with safe seats. Washington should look to the Hawkeye state for a solution. The Iowa Legislative Service Agency draws political lines using computer software, with population the only criterion. It’s not wholly removed from politics because the governor and general assembly must give the OK, but it comes close. It’s a model that merits serious consideration. (We have until 2020 to figure out a redistricting approach that puts Washington voters, not career politicians, first.)

Second, the obscene amount of dough thrown around in politics: The tractable solution is a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision, a decision that has filled the coffers of Republicans and Democrats alike. In the meantime (and, yes, the latter will take years) Washington’s congressional candidates should agree to a voluntary cap (no more than $2 million, for example.) That also should extend to those who self-finance their campaigns.

Last, somehow, the next generation needs to keep the faith. Study history, embrace civics, internalize the U.S. Constitution. The shutdown is a case study of what not to do. America needs innovative and farsighted leadership. That rests, at least for now, with a new generation of Americans.

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