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Can we overcome our current political dysfunction?

March 9, 2014, at 12:00 PM
 
"The problem of gridlock is real and needs to be fixed," says Majority Leader Harry Reid.

"The problem of gridlock is real and needs to be fixed," says Majority Leader Harry Reid. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

In the latest episode of the Political Wire podcast, we spoke with Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, founder of the group No Labels, about breaking the gridlock in Washington and creating an atmosphere of where both parties work to solve the problems facing the country.

McKinnon is optimistic the two major political parties can work to overcome the current political dysfunction.

Here are five takeaways from our conversation:

1. Democracy usually rights itself after periods of frustration: There's no question that Congress is as dysfunctional as it has been in recent memory. Filibusters have become routine, and it's difficult to get any major legislation enacted on a bipartisan basis. But this division can't go on forever, McKinnon suggested. At some point people become so frustrated that democracy corrects itself. Although he acknowledged the recent increase in gerrymandered districts, the fragmentation of the media, and the rise of outside groups, he suggested that "we just hit rock bottom, and at a certain point the pendulum has to swing back, and I think that's starting to happen."

2. And signs of that correction are slowly but surely starting to emerge: McKinnon's own experience with his No Labels group suggests that there are new signs of hope for breaking the gridlock. Some 92 members of Congress have signed on with his group, and he's seen a change of heart in them during the group's regular meetings: "Just by getting in the room together, they recognize that it's harder to demonize each other, they can co-sponsor bills, and suddenly you've got a group of 90 votes or so, and now you have the leadership's attention." Lawmakers' interest in No Labels has grown so much he said, that at some point the group may have to cap its membership.

3. But formidable obstacles to overcoming the gridlock stand in the way: These include partisan media, gerrymandered districts, and powerful outside interest groups. The polarization that has ensued has created another problem that the country must work to undo — the lack of a well-established set of national goals, McKinnon said. Not agreeing on what a lot of these goals are just makes matters more difficult, he said. "If you don't have an agreement on what the goals are … then you just start spinning in every direction possible, which is where we are today," McKinnon said.

4. Both parties share some blame for creating today's dysfunction: Although both parties share some guilt in creating today's politically polarized, dysfunctional Congress, McKinnon noted just how far to the right the Republican Party has come in recent years. Exhibit A may be former President George W. Bush. The younger Bush's "compassionate conservatism" didn't seem so compassionate to many Democrats and liberals during his presidency, but even Bush may not be conservative enough for the current GOP: "Democrats and liberals thought he was such a raging conservative. And of now of course in the current Republican [landscape] he's seen as a liberal. That just shows the shifting landscape....That sort of confuses a lot of the electorate."

5. Despite people's disgust with Washington, Hillary Clinton's experience will make her a good candidate: There's been a lot of talk of a growing "throw the bums out" mentality brewing among voters, perhaps stemming from a general disgust with how Washington works today. Conventional wisdom may hold that somebody like Hillary Clinton, who has held a long list of posts in Washington, may be less attractive to voters today as a result of the anti-Washington attitude. That view may not hold entirely true, McKinnon suggested, precisely because she has experience. Voters may like to see someone who knows how to get things done, even if she's been in Washington for so long: "I think people will look at Hillary Clinton and say, 'You know what, it's gonna be good to have somebody who's been around the track a lot, who understands the levers of government, who has experienced people around her, who know how every agency works.'"

Listen to the whole conversation here:

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