The world is shocked and the USA is embarrassed by the horrible snarl in Washington over, well, basically everything. The main problem right now is over the budget and the looming debt ceiling issue. What is the real problem? Why can't they move this thing forward?
Of course, there is never one single answer to such logjams. Not in politics, nor in marriage, nor in business nor in any area of social interaction. Here are some thoughts on what lies near and at the heart of all this.
This cannot be discounted. Many believe or choose to believe that all of this is nothing more than political gamesmanship. There is plenty of that to go around but the clash of visions in Washington is profound. Though there are certainly a vast multiplicity of variations, the two camps in Washington have clearly staked out their territory and for the most part I believe both sides are sincere. That does not mean both sides are right. It just means both are acting on their core values and beliefs.
On the left are those who believe in larger government, more centralized control, greater government programs for the poor and of course, higher taxes to pay for all these things. On the right their counterparts are just as devoted to the free market with fewer controls and regulations, lower taxes and entitlements replaced by opportunity. Make no mistake about it. Both sides are genuine. That is actually a great part of the problem. They are so devoted to their ideology that they cannot imagine the other side being sincere. No one could really believe THAT? Yes. Actually they do. They really do. That means that the negotiations begin miles apart ideologically. Both sides have vastly disparate visions of America. Vastly different.
That always means both parties cast the conflict as a "right and wrong" issue. The traffic flow is backed up for miles because both sides see a detour as a moral compromise. When organizations, churches or companies are split ideologically the debate quickly leaps upward in volume, intensity and rhetoric. The other side doesn't just disagree with me. They are bad.
In marriage counseling, for example the hardest issue is never who gets to control the checkbook, but what kind of marriage do we want here? Only as they can see some positive in the other's vision can the two move closer together. They may never fully agree on their basic concept of marriage, though it would sure help if they would discuss it up front. It would certainly do wonders if both can believe in the sincerity of their partner, and try to see some redeeming value in the opposing view. The wider the gap the greater the temptation to doubt the other's motives, and good will. Eventually the chasm may widen to swallow the marriage whole.
The founders of the United States of America were able to cobble together and articulate constitutionally a composite vision of the new republic to which all the founders eventually subscribed. It was not a perfect vision, nor did it perfectly reflect anyone's views entirely, but the incredible unity of their vision was remarkable given their vastly different world and national views. The Constitution of the United States of America then was to be the legally stated narrative, the guiding super-ego which through all seasons and centuries was to keep the nation true to its better self.
Throughout the history of the United States, there have arisen those moments where the understanding of that national conscience, or at least the application of it, was so riven that the very survival of the nation hung in the balance. The slavery issue and the civil war fought in its name very nearly finished that unity for good. In the end the war did not rupture the nation, but healing was a long time coming and in many quarters is still happening.
Since that time there has not been so great a divide in the struggle for national definition as we are seeing right now. That is at the heart of this struggle. The news corps and the plethora of political pundits lambast the President and the Congress for digging their heels in, but part of the problem, a major part, is that many of the most sincere on both sides see themselves as warriors in a fight for the soul of a nation. In that sense it could be said they are acting honorably, albeit stubbornly and perhaps less than statesmanlike.
What kind of nation is this? What kind should it be? When that can no longer even be discussed with civility and decency the stress on the relationship is excruciating. We are not yet at Gettysburg, thank God, but make no mistake about it, the United States is in a massive, agonizing struggle between two vastly different concepts of national values, faith, economy and the purpose of government. It is cynical to dismiss all of the harsh battles in Washington as just so much politics as usual. Many on both sides see this as a war for the national definition. They are not just strutting peacocks playing politics, they mean business. That is why some have dug their heels in.
This president is an ideologue. It is mistake to dismiss him as insincere. The conservatives on the other side are just as passionate as he. To them the battle is not to score insignificant political points in minor skirmishes. The Conservatives are fighting for what they understand to be the national soul searched out before God and written down by the founders to hold it in place...forever. Obama is just as sincerely dedicated to a total redefinition of the same country. That deadlock will not be easily negotiated.
When Obama and the progressive Democrats won the White House and both Houses of Congress in 2008, they felt no need to negotiate with the minority in either house and rammed through the Affordable Care Act. Now having lost the House they cannot let go of that mentality. Now they need to negotiate and they just cannot bring themselves to do it. It feels to them like a loss of face. That brings us to the second major problem in Washington.
In a marriage counseling session one husband said, Why should I compromise? Let her compromise. That about says it all. Neither side is free of ego. Washington is awash in ego. Right now Obama has hurt himself politically by stating that he will not negotiate. Right there is the point where ideology melds with ego for total deadlock. That does not mean both sides are not responsible. It just means the the president made a political miscalculation by stating his refusal to negotiate. It makes him look small and petulant. The ideologue makes the issue "right and wrong." The egotist makes it "win or lose." Great leaders always try to take the high ground. Americans want leaders who are willing to listen, who are open to the ideas of others, even their opponents.
Great leaders try to bring disparate visions into alignment. In a company or an organization this can eventually be accomplished by replacing staff and changing leadership. In a nation it's not so easy, as we are finding out. The president of this republic is an elected official. So are the members of Congress. They are not a king and the nobility locked in a feudal struggle.
They are expected to negotiate, to listen to each other, and to try, in so far as they can, to set aside their fragile egos and talk this over like people of good faith. Negotiation is why we have more than one of them. An emperor has no need to negotiate. In a republic it is the indispensable currency of leadership.