“I’m supposed to hate you. You’re supposed to hate me. We never agree” These are the lyrics from A House Divided as sung by Megadeth, an American trash metal band that was popular in the ‘80s. The song is representative of Congress today, where partisanship is at an all-time high or what MSNBC television host Chris Matthews refers to as “government by tantrum.”
Gone are the days of comprise that were best illustrated by President Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill. Despite their political differences, they found common ground on big ticket items like taxes, Social Security and foreign policy. It never got personal.
Today, it’s very personal. Members of Congress refuse to compromise on even the most basic issues with their opponents, and as a result, nothing legislatively gets accomplished. It’s a culture where even those who attempt to reach agreement are referred to as “Gang members.” The hostile political discourse reached its peak this fall with the dramatic government shutdown that left the U.S. on the brink of a federal default.
While much has been written about the hyper-partisanship and rancor of the 113th Congress, a recent article in The Economist entitled United States of Amoeba shared a visual depiction by Renzo Lucioni, a computer science undergraduate from Harvard University. Lucioni created three network maps showing to what degree senators voted the same way in different periods of time. Twenty five years ago, senators crossed party lines often on votes as illustrated by the cohesive looking sphere with a strong center. Today’s map clearly shows the divide with two distinct spheres and very little interaction between them.
If this trend continues, and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight, don’t expect much work to be done by our federal representatives.