Voting for Paralysis

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The success that Republicans expect in next month's elections, assuming it happens, will be no vote of confidence in their party or their policies. A sufficient part of the electorate wants to stop or slow Obama and his allies: that rebuke will be real enough. But Republicans are no better liked. The country is actually voting for paralysis--in circumstances that make this unusually hazardous. So I argue in my new FT column.

One could argue that voting when the opportunity arises to divide and disempower the government is in the best traditions of American democracy. The checks and balances of the constitution were written with that purpose in mind. On a long view, the system's resistance to political innovation might be the secret of the country's success, preventing lurches from one ideological extreme to the other, creating a high degree of institutional conservatism. Compare domestic and foreign policy, where the executive's powers are less checked and abrupt changes of direction, not always to the good, have been more common.

In normal times, perhaps, there is much to be said for the default mode of US domestic policy: don't just do something, stand there. But these are not normal times. The US may be about to vote for paralysis in Washington just as circumstances really do demand forthright and urgent action.
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