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Issue Guide - Political Fix: How Do We Get American Politics Back on Track?

published: 2013

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The following is excerpted from the introduction to this 12-page issue guide:

The view that something is amiss in American government is now widely shared. "We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years," say scholars Tomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein, "and never have we seen them this dysfunctional."...

Even some elected officials acknowledge they have a problem. "We need to change the way we do business," says Tom Udall, a Democratic senator from New Mexico. "Right now, we have gridlock. We have delay. We have obstruction, and we don't have any accountability."

The troubles facing American politics are varied and complex. Observers point to a wide range of developments that, if left unchecked, are likely to further weaken the effectiveness of government. These include:

  • The flood of corporate money into American political campaigns.
  • The growing influence of lobbyists and special interest groups.
  • The increasing polarization and rancor of our political discourse.
  • Structural impediments, such as current redistricting laws that limit ballot choices and skew elections results.
  • The "permanent campaign" that encourages lawmakers to focus on short-term gains instead of long-term solutions.
  • Political leaders acting in their own interests rather than serving the public good.
  • The disengagement of ordinary Americans who turn away from politics in disgust rather than getting involved and making their voices heard.

This issue guide presents three options for consideration:

Option 1: Break the grip of special interests
The key to addressing gridlock and dysfuntion in government is to rein in special interests and curb the influence of big money.

Option 2: Increase responsibility
Our best hope of fixing American politics is to restore individual responsibility in communities and at every level of government.

Option 3: Fix the mechanisms of politics
The mechanisms of government are no longer responsive to the will of the people. We need major structural changes to make the system work as it was intended to.

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