Gridlock, American-Style

By Michael BB

Photo from Google Images

Please take some time, and peruse the information from WikiPedia contained in the articles linked here. They provide some much-needed perspective on Why Gridlock is built-in to the American system, and how it got there.


Parliamentary system

…There, now that you have read them both, you can see that any republican form of government with a president need not have that president’s party in control of either house of a bi-cameral legislature, or the single house of a uni-cameral body. What are these terms, you may ask. Try these two links for the scoop on just why we have what we have, a bi-cameral Federal system.



For this writer, Gridlock means there is no nationwide consensus about a given issue. The more pervasive the gridlock, the wider the field of disagreement. When things grind to a halt, it is clear consensus has largely disappeared, and polarization is the prevailing dymanic. Our checks and balances become fetters and millstones…yikes.

Progressives are the most alarmed by this state of affairs, conservatives much less so. The explanation seems clear enough. Progress means change, and change needs some consensus. The status-quo requires neither. If there is major, fundamental disagreement about what the nature of progress and change should be, gridlock, in our republican, bi-cameral legislative system, will insure that nothing gets done.

But, you all are saying, this is Exactly the Problem!!! It’s Money, or Politics, or Personalities, or The Filibuster, or Liberals who keep compromising, or Conservatives who cannot accept a compromise. Not the case, says our political theory.

The system is designed to stall nicely in the absence of a group of political leaders who are willing to make changes in the law, or make new laws, or even to repeal old ones. No president in such a situation can legislate from the White House, nor can Congress override a presidental veto, without this consensus-oriented group.

It is clear from years of voting patterns that many places throughout the nation have voted Democratic in local elections, and Republican in national ones, or vice-versa.

The Mystery of Local Versus National Partisan Representation

(The abstract is an excellent summary, the article itself exhaustive but revealing.)

With this kind of flip-flopping, we have created for ourselves a bi-polar skew in our legislative and executive branches. No wonder, then, that politicians feel they have to act similarly, saying different things to different audiences within the same constituency.

In parlimentary systems, the Majority is the ONLY group that can form a government. There is no gridlock, unless the Parliament decides the Majority has collapsed, and calls for a vote of no confidence: new elections are then held. We republican democracies must soldier on with divided governments in spite of any cracks, fissures, or outright chasms in our politics.

I’ll bet you are fed up with it, just like I am. But, I am writing to let readers know exactly WHY we’ve got what we got here…

The republican form of democracy is designed to protect minority rights, so that the majority cannot dictate to the populus as a whole. Sort of like how the Republican All-Stars here in Wisconsin passed our Budget Reform legislation. If there were actual Democratic Federal majorities in the House and Senate, and the White House, the same kinds of moves could be done there, in reverse, of course, only the Dems would be smarter about it. That would have to be, because no one else could handle things as fumble-fingered-ly as the Wisco Repubs, with their absolute bungling of the collective bargaining repeal.

What exactly constitutes a full majority at the Federal level? It is what has come to be known as a super-majority, that is, the House in raw numbers, but the Senate having 61 members in one party. The fillibuster rules changed in 1975. Since then, a cloture vote, that is, a vote to end a fillibuster, is a routine part of getting ANY bill to a vote. This makes an effective majority 61, officially 60, but at least one for a margin of safety seems more practical.

Filibuster in the United States

Some Senate Democrats to try to change filibuster rules in new Congress – CNN

And, as you now know, having read these fascinating links, a Super-Majority might need to be as high as 67 Senators. On the first day of a legislative session, however, a simple 51-vote majority could change the Senate rules. As you have not heard of any such changes, they have obviously not happened.

We have nothing but minorities in America now. The one that is being protected is the one that can afford to buy enough legislators: in either party, they are not particular. The now-famous One Percent is using personalities, fillibusters, and uncompromising attitudes to control the legislative process, and thus we have no Politics, only Money.

There are at least two other minorities that want to see major changes. The middle class, of which I am a member in good standing, wants to see less gerrymandering of economic justice, and the working poor want to see anything that makes them more able to work without having to be poor doing it. Tax reform, that is lower rates with fewer exemptions, making for a widened tax base, and monetary reform that will make dollars saved worth saving, and dollars used for market speculation more expensive, would be a nice start.

Next time, more about Wisconsin’s recall elections, and the Real Challenge the Democrats face in Wisconsin. Until then, peace and unrest…

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