You don’t need me to tell you that the chattering class is appalled by the partisan gridlock and political bickering that keeps Washington from dealing efficiently with the nation's problems. Last week Gallup measured Congress's job approval at 11 percent, a new low. Heading into Christmas week, you could hardly open a paper or turn on the radio without encountering a wave of dudgeon over the latest legislative squabble -- a standoff over extending a payroll tax cut that expires on Dec. 31. "Just when you thought the mess in Washington couldn't get any messier" was the way an exasperated Washington Post editorial began, while a columnist in The Examiner pronounced the wrangling on Capitol Hill "almost a parody of Washington dysfunction."
So what else is new? Last month it was the failure of the so-called Supercommittee to agree on a package of budget cuts that was said to epitomize the federal establishment's fecklessness. In the spring and summer it was the protracted fight over the federal debt ceiling and Standard & Poor's downgrade of US Treasury bonds. Before that there were the polarizing confrontations over stimulus spending, financial-industry regulation, and Barack Obama's massive health-care overhaul.
Two years ago Newsweek was lamenting that partisan politics had turned this nation into "America the Ungovernable." The liberal newsweekly was in a lather over the political forces conspiring "to prevent President Obama from running the country effectively," and was upset in particular because Massachusetts had just elected a Republican, Scott Brown, to the US Senate. That meant another vote for the GOP's "agenda of pure nihilism," Newsweek fumed, and more of the "political impotency that has come to define the United States in the 21st century."