Is the United States Government Broken? -

Monday, March 1, 2010

There is no question that the U.S. government is facing its share of troubles. During the worst recession in its history, it is fighting two foreign wars. On top of that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 9.7 percent of the workforce is unemployed, and despite months of congressional discussion and deal making, a solution to the health care crisis seems far off.

In the depths of all this turmoil, the news gets worse. A recent CNN public opinion poll revealed that most Americans – 86 percent – believe that their government is “broken.” “The people who responded to that poll are partly correct,” says political observer Randall Miller, Ph.D., professor of history at Saint Joseph’s University.

Miller says that for some time, politicians who are more interested in partisan politics than in producing good policy have bogged down the functions of the federal government in order to suit their own purposes. “The out party wants to make the in party look bad, so they stop needed legislation for no good reason, or don’t approve political appointments to government agencies. The result is, in some cases, the legislative process just stops.”

This is commonly known as Washington gridlock, but unfortunately, its effect is felt far beyond the confines of the Beltway. It slows progress, highlights a lack of leadership across the board, and makes the sitting administration look inadequate, Miller says. “It happened during the Bush years, and it is happening now, and might be one of the reasons for the federal government’s dismal showing in the CNN poll.”

Miller cites Illinois Senator Evan Bayh’s surprising decision not to seek reelection as an example of a worthy politician weary of the infighting. “Bayh is known for his capacity to reach across the aisle and create meaningful legislation. His choice to bow out during an election year shines a harsh light on the culture of divisiveness in Washington.”

However, with the passage of the $15 billion dollar jobs bill, Miller sees reason to be hopeful that government isn’t permanently broken. “Thirteen Republicans voted with 57 Democrats to create jobs in the midst of the Great Recession,” noted Miller. “Obviously, it makes good political sense to vote in the affirmative for jobs, with our national unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent. But this kind of bi-partisan politics will give the American people a reason to think about putting some trust in their government again.”

Media Contact

Miller can be reached for comment at 610-660-1748,, or by calling the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222.

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