There have been many complaints recently about the way Washington works — or rather its recent failures to efficiently implement Obama’s policy priorities.
Paul Krugman compares the present state of American politics to the gridlock that afflicted 17th-century Poland. Use of the Liberum Veto froze the Polish parliament (the Sejm). Now senators are holding up new legislation in America. Many others have added complaints about special-interest groups and an alleged need for public financing of elections.
Evan Bayh cites partisanship and gridlock as reasons for his departure from the Senate. Bayh claims that it was easier to serve the public “in the old days.” Generally speaking, there is a feeling among many that the legislative process can and ought to work better, and that elected officials can and should do a better job of serving the public.
While critics of the status quo in Washington are no doubt sincere, there are good reasons to see their views as naïve. Ideology does influence the way many senators vote. According to one study, voter preferences are a minor influence on how senators vote, except for senators who face strong opponents in upcoming elections. In highly competitive politics, politicians must ignore more ideological and extreme viewpoints in favor of the centrist positions that Bayh favored. It is, however, quite normal to lack competition in a two-party system. There is a lack of competition in many areas of American politics, but this is normal.