Kai Ryssdal: We dodged yet another government shutdown this past week. It’s the third time this year Congress has been able to agree that government ought to at least be open, anyway. So that’s good.
As will not surprise you at all, most Americans aren’t all that happy about what’s going on in Washington. Gallup released a poll this week that showed 82 percent of people disapprove of the job Congress is doing. Which brings up two questions. What about the other 18 percent? And who’s fault is it?
Here’s commentator Rob Walker.
Rob Walker: Who is to blame, politically, for the mess that it is the United States economy, and the apparent failure to arrive at anything resembling a policy for fixing it? Some say Democrats, some say Republicans, but more and more people prefer to say “Washington.”
I assume that a sweeping distaste for politicians is older than Washington himself — the actual guy, I mean. But it’s become particularly fashionable since the debt ceiling standoff to be disgusted not just with the president, Congress, or any political party, but with Washington in general. You know, the whole system, man. People pass off anti-Washingtonism as a kind of wise and brave insight: “Politicians are all the same — just a bunch of bums!”
But this attitude is absurd, particularly since the debt-ceiling debacle. I can’t remember a time when the disagreement about what to do next has been more clearly defined: One side argues for a mix of budget cuts and new spending, the other side insists it’s all about slashing wasteful government, period.
Whichever way you come down on that argument, it’s a very simple one. Responding to it by condemning the argument itself is not just redundant, it’s counterproductive.
Politicians are manifestly not all the same, as evidenced by their diametrically opposed policy ideas. Each side seems to have a core group of supporters, but then there’s a third camp — the vaunted “independent” — whose point of view boils down to existential despair about the inability of others to forge solutions.
It’s this third camp that actually allows — in fact that forces — the policy paralysis that it pretends to abhor. The two bickering parties have no particular reason to budge as long as they figure they have a shot at winning over public opinion in general. After all, equal-opportunity disgust with Washington hurts each antagonist equally. Unless somebody wants us to become a protectorate of Canada or something, then Washington — the whole system, man — has no rival. So enough with being against Washington. That’s not getting us anywhere. What are you for?
Kai Ryssdal: Rob Walker is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and Design Observer. Send us your comments — write to us.
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