In a previous post, "The Political System Of The United States is Broken: Where Are We Now", I sketched out the institutional context and how its main pieces interact with each other.
In a subsequent post, "The Political System Of the United States is Broken: Why Is It Breaking Down", I looked at the fundamental changes that our society that have begun to put more strain on our institutions than they can manage while governing our society well.
In this post, I will try to grapple with the somewhat contradictory directions that an understanding of the problems can pull us towards.
Recapping The Problem
The United States federal government has a system that usually takes substantial bipartisan majorities to accomplish anything. It is also systemically biased against Democrats and in favor of Republicans, making it particularly hard for Democrats to secure the majorities they need to make unilateral action at the federal level. The burden we have imposed on the judiciary to get out through periods of gridlock is exceptional, unreasonable, and exposes the imperfections our our somewhat antiquated legal system.
Securing the bipartisan majorities need to make our system work is increasingly different because American society is growing ever increasingly divided at a fundamental grass roots level.
This is driven mostly by the rapidly changing nature of our economy, which has produced increasingly geographically and culturally separated subcultures of our society, one group of subcultures who have mostly come out ahead in these changing times, and another that is suffering as a result of the changes our economy has experienced.
As these divided people elect politicians to their own respective likings, the politicians don't have enough common ground to jointly govern a nation well in a rapidly changing world that requires decisive action.
State and local government politics is less distorted and less burdened with inertia than the federal government, but they often aren't well run either.
Some blue state governments do a well intentioned job that approaches the best response that it is possible for them to make to their conditions under the constraints that they face.
Many red state governments run by representatives of a subculture that is at its wits end and has mostly misguided ideas about what to do about it based upon misunderstandings about the sources of their woes, in substance, aren't necessarily outperforming the status quo chained federal government.
Also, there are limits to what any state and local government official can do when stuck in a bind between pervasive federal government imposed limitations and pressures for action from their constituents that they are hard pressed to resolve.
Centralization v. Federalism v. Conversion
There are at least three basic thrusts of ways to address our national dilemmas.
One is basically a centralized federal "New Deal" approach. The basic problem is that people in red state America are comparative poor, economically insecure, and continuing to fall behind.
Their own state and local governments don't understand the problem and based upon their own misdiagnosis of the cause of their woes are appealing to laissez-faire economic policies, trying to enforce a certain, heavily sexually oriented sense of moral virtue, putting down others in an effort to keep themselves afloat, distrusting experts, rejecting government, discarding empathy, and trying to put people outside their culture down in an effort to lift themselves up.
An agenda of universal health care, universal access to education, a stronger social safety net, more support for families, and so on, at a national level, could make life dramatically better for red state America. But our system makes it very hard to accomplish those ambitious goals. On one hand, this because their politicians and the people that they represent don't understand that these measures solve the root causes of the distress that their communities have been facing. On the other hand, this is because their politicians instinctively know that support for their agenda depends upon keeping their constituents poor, insecure and desperate. This could be the best solution that we'll never get.
Another approach is federalism. If we can facilitate the process of bringing about change at a state level, where the forces of inertia are not so great, it may be easier to change all or almost all of fifty different governments than one massive rusted over government that is too hard to press into action. Examples of success among early adopter can move other states along, as it has in the case of marijuana legalization. Red state distrust of the federal government can be abated with action taken at a state level red state Americans feel like they have more control over. But if we do that, how to encourage the states to make smart changes in instead of foolish or counterproductive ones? What minimum standards must we still insist upon nationally to have a decent society?
A third-approach is conversion. Focus on winning red state Americans over. Encourage them to move to big cities. Discourage them from adhering to self-destructive ways.
It isn't easy, however, to reconcile these three approaches fruitfully, even though each has its own appeal.