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Day 15 of Government Shutdown

There’s no better time to enter the political blogosphere than during a government shutdown! Today is Day 15 of the Shutdown, and the deadline for the Debt Ceiling is coming up in a few days. Partisan gridlock in our nation’s capital has been conspicuously on display while America’s federal civil servants are on furlough. Washington D.C. has not been more mercilessly divided and hopelessly dysfunctional in recent memory. This seems like a good time as any to wade into the fray of American political discourse.

I am a political nerd, and have been since my early teens. As a progressive independent, I have never been one to register with a political party. And with political dysfunction in D.C. at an all time high, I must wonder aloud: Is the two-party system failing us as a nation? When partisan allegiances are placed above the needs of our nation, the status quo fails us. The polarization is only compounded by high-tech computer-generated gerrymandering, which has accelerated in use by both Republicans and Democrats. It seems to me that gerrymandering is the elephant in the room in American politics. It is always there but no one acknowledges it.

As districts are re-drawn to be hyper-partisan, U.S. Representatives belonging to either the G.O.P. or to the Democrats are beholden to their constituents in their Ruby Red or Cerulean Blue districts. When districts are redrawn by both political parties solely for the purpose of easily winning election or re-election, they don’t result in moderate governing or in political compromise across party lines. We see legions of moderate politicians being forced out of politics, whether it is through divisive primaries such as what happened to former Senator Richard “Dick” Lugar in Indiana, or the partisan gridlock in D.C. forces moderates out by causing them to simply quit, like long-time serving Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. We see more and more minority “fringe” political views represented in Congress, such as the firebrand polemicist Ted Cruz. We see more inflammatory rhetoric and more brinksmanship. Every few months in Congress there is a new manufactured political crisis like a debt ceiling deadline or budget funding crisis, a byproduct of the “kicking the can down the road” style of “governing.” The frequency of these emergencies is indeed alarming. After the U.S.A.’s credit rating got downgraded a few years ago, you would think that our politicians would become savvy to the negative repercussions of brinkmanship. But it continues to be waged despite the apparent outrage and disgust of the American people. And our Congress continues to be unwilling to engage in compromise, moderate thought, dialogue, anything at all. Remember when pundits projected we could expect Immigration Reform to be finally tackled by Congress in October 2013? Oh, that’s funny. Instead Congress is posturing about whether to pay for the debt we have already incurred as a nation. That is not a good harbinger for the US, which has plenty of real problems and a complete lack of political will to solve these complicated public policy issues.

New York Times Political statistician wonder-kid Nate Silver has also noted why compromise is so difficult to come by, especially in the House of Representatives, stating that: “Individual members of Congress are responding fairly rationally to their incentives,” Silver wrote. “Most members of the House now come from hyper-partisan districts where they face essentially no threat of losing their seat to the other party. Instead, primary challenges, especially for Republicans, may be the more serious risk.” Or if they are the Speaker of the House, then they might be able to run unopposed. I am alluding to the 2012 re-election of John Boehner. One of the very  pillars of G.O.P. brand obstructionism, John Boehner ran for re-election in 2012 unopposed in his southern Ohio district. No Democrat would run against him in his district because gerrymandering has made it impossible for a Democrat to win there. Why would any reasonable candidate run in that district when statistically speaking the metrics ensure that it would be a costly landslide defeat? The vastness of this problem can’t be understated.

But the American people are clearly outraged and exhausted from the dysfunction in Washington D.C. But will our outrage translate into actual policy changes? That remains to be seen. I do hope against hope that the anger can translate into more interest and success in Third Parties. As an Independent voter in Colorado, a state that has a large population of Independent voters (33.92% of voters in Colorado), I hope that more Americans realize that they don’t have to be lemmings to party-lines when political parties no longer serve their interests. Wake up, America.