As summer temperatures climb in the capital, election season swings into full gear. It is that time of year when media pundits and politicos brandish endless polling data to predict what November shall bring. Some say Republicans will recapture the House of Representatives. Others insist they will win both chambers. Skeptics disagree, arguing that the current Democratic majorities will survive the onslaught.
Today, politics is the common denominator. From health care policy to financial reform to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, every unfolding development is framed for maximum media exposure and partisan dissection. The accompanying questions have grown predictable: Is President Obama wasting his political capital on health care legislation? Will voters punish Republicans who defend Wall Street? How will the federal response to the oil spell affect the fate of congressional Democrats? No one doubts the ability of media outlets to employ highly-qualified experts to answer such questions. Their voices and opinions have dominated the public discourse for years. However, a fundamental problem remains. As the public becomes accustomed to digesting its news in a strict political context, the risk of increased partisanship grows.
While the chattering class worries about which party will control the levers of power, the United States is falling behind its international peers. In the 20th century, the U.S. was a nation in motion. Highways and railroads were built across the continent. Men were sent to the moon. This year brings news of a national debt above $13 trillion. Countries like China are easily surpassing America’s investment in energy innovation and technology. Health care costs continue to skyrocket.
The new Congress that convenes next January promises to shift the political environment in Washington. That is a given. Unfortunately, the policy environment may not improve from its present state of gridlock. At a moment when politicians and the news media dance in a circle of intoxicating shouting matches, the nation could use a period of reason and analytical problem-solving. Politics is inevitable, but policy should never be compromised.