Partisan Decision Paralysis

The NYTimes has one of those small, but seminal stories on the National Scene today – strong evidence of Partisan Decision Paralysis. The US is in a transition like Britain was 150 years ago – Britain from Empire to merely an influential European player; the US from Economic and Military World Power to whatever the US plans and strives for under compelling diminished circumstances. But there is no doubt that by 2020 to 2024 the World number one economic power  will be China followed by India, Brazil, and possibly Russia. The US, fast ceding its innovation roots [look at the education rankings] and manufacturing prowess, will be lucky to make the top 4. The challenges facing the US  and the World are legion and relentless: US economic decline as jobs are drained from the economy; environmental, climate and energy constraints that really bite down on what Americans [and World populations] can consume and  do;  the rise of market making innovation in other centers like China/Taiwan, India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Against this backdrop of  gradual but broad and game-changing crisis, the US political process has become shrill and highly partisan. Here are some of the key observations from the article:

The votes also marked something else: the culmination of more than a generation of partisan polarization of the American political system, and a precipitous decline in collegiality and collaboration in governing that seemed to move in inverse proportion to a rising influence of lobbying, money, the 24-hour news cycle and hostilities on talk shows and in the blogosphere.

The health care legislation was approved Thursday morning, with the Senate divided on party lines — something that has not happened in modern times on so important a shift in domestic policy, or on major legislation of any kind, lawmakers and Congressional historians said….

“You have got this divide, this polarization in America,” said Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, the only Republican in recent weeks to seriously consider supporting the health bill. “People become risk-averse, politically risk-averse. There is no incentive to reach across the divide and appeal to a broader inclination. It looks like pragmatism is a political cop-out; compromise is certainly viewed that way.”

But even as senators complained about the rancor and expressed nostalgia for a kinder era, they conceded that the hyper-partisanship was likely to continue, potentially coloring coming debates on other major issues including financial regulation, climate change and, perhaps, immigration.

At a time when the US must plan for ceding its World Economic Power – the vital basis for its World Military and Political Power, the US has become politically dysfunctional. The petty price of partisanship seems to be Decision Paralysis with its consequent less than sub-optimal policymaking[see Tom Friedman’s article for a stellar example] – such is the vestige of forever postponing substantial election financing and lobbying reforms.