Now that President Barack Obama has gotten that vainglorious State of the Union stuff out of the way, business as usual is likely to prevail in Washington. No, not specifically Republican obstructionism. But Congress’s assumption of its superiority. Over the years, you may have been misled by TV shows like “The West Wing” that make the president top dog, but there’s a reason why Congress is in Article 1—that is, first among the delineated branches in the U.S. Constitution: It’s the branch the Founding Fathers put some actual thought into; the presidency was merely an afterthought.
In a recent New Yorker article called The Power Of Congress, Sam Tanenhaus reviews the recent literature on Congress, and concludes that whatever can be said of Congress, it is jealous of its institutional prerogatives. It is also the cause of much of the political dysfunction the country suffers from. This is partly to do with reforms (going back to the early 1950s to Newt Gingrich’s 1994 “Contract With America” and beyond) that made overzealous partisanship the modus operandi inside its hollowed halls. It used to be that studied inertia and patronage politics reigned above ideology (oddly enough, enhancing bipartisanship; even more oddly, to the chagrin of liberals and their agenda). But the current dysfunction makes accomplishing the people’s business a tall order. Says Tanenhaus: “Today, no one is confused about who is a Democrat and who is a Republican. But it hasn’t made it easier for the parties to govern, separately or together.”