Monday, September 30, 2013

Shutting down

So it looks like the US government will largely speaking shut down tomorrow.  There are plenty of things to say here about financial policy, Obamacare, and other facets of the showdown between the Democrats and Republicans but I think the critical thing this highlights is how much of a mess two party politics is.  In most countries you simply would not see this because voters would savagely punish any two powerful parties that between them arranged to destroy government services in such a ridiculous and petty way.  Needless to say a single party that controlled the government would be utterly finished if they let such a thing happen but if there were a third option, any option at all, the Democrats and Republicans would not be doing what they are doing either.

It is that fundamental issue of not having any options that leads to disastrous consequences.  It isn't quite as severe as simply having a despot ruling with an iron fist (the ultimate of 'no option' scenarios, surely) but it isn't that far off either.  When the only thing a party has to do is make a particular other party look bad politics ceases to be about doing things that make people happy and centres around wrecking things in a way that can be easily pinned on someone else.  Again, if you have two parties doing this and there is someone else reasonable to vote for people will take that option.

Canadian politics isn't perfect of course but it benefits greatly from having a number of real parties.  The Conservatives and Liberals would happily have spent all their time mudslinging at each other but they can't realistically do that when there are the New Democrats throughout the nation and the Bloc in Quebec.  They had to spend time talking up their own plans and lauding their past successes, which is exactly what we as voters want.  Mudslinging still exists but no party can rely on scandals on the other side to guarantee votes; they really do need to prevent their own scandals to have any chance.  That doesn't make them perfect or even particularly good but it does curb their excesses substantially which is a good thing.

There is nothing on the horizon changing the status quo though.  The government will cease to function, people will be livid, and they will blame whichever party they already hate.  This catastrophe will not have the sort of effect we would hope - that politicians who cannot compromise to get critical things done get their asses kicked out of office.  It will lower the world's opinion of the US just a little bit more; not that the citizens of the US are overly concerned with that of course.

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