Want the shutdown to end? Blame a party, either party. Just not both.

I know that blaming both parties for the shutdown is the polite thing to do. Blaming one party is shrill, irritating, and could cause fights with friends and family. It’s partisanship at its worst. But choosing to blame one party more than the other also goes by another name: democratic accountability. Blaming both parties equally doesn’t give either party an incentive to change its position, and so locks in gridlock just as surely as not blaming either party.

Scholars of comparative democracy find that parliamentary systems are more stable than presidential ones precisely because voters know who to blame for things like poor economic performance.  One party (or coalition of parties) is given power to run the government, and then voters can then decide whether or not to re-elect them.  The U.S. is currently the only presidential system that’s has had sticking power.  (Chile had a good run before collapsing into a brutal dictatorship in 1973).

The United States was different because it’s parties were not always made up along ideological lines. At one time there were liberal Republicans (mainly in the North) and conservative Democrats (mainly in the South). This made it easier for the parties to compromise, since their ideologies overlapped. The Civil Rights movement changed all that and turned the once solid south from Dixiecrats (the popular name for southern Democrats) to Republicans. Ever since then we’ve seen increasing ideological polarization.

I’ve already made it clear which party I think is to blame. Like most human beings, I’d like it if you agreed with me. But that’s not the point of this post. You must form your own judgment based on your own experiences. If you disagree with me, I’d like to know why, since I still think deliberative discourse is good for democracy. Talking to people who disagree with you is hard work, but a necessary part of a functional democracy.

So, for the love of democracy, please blame someone. And only one, not both. If blame still makes you uncomfortable, just think of it as accountability. At the end of the day (and also the beginning, the middle, and really all 24 hours) democracy is based on human judgment. So use a little!


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