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The Aesthetics of Divided Government

It’s fashionable among many commentators (like CNN’s David Gergen) to describe the near-shutdown of the federal government last week as a disgrace, an embarrassment, unbecoming a great nation. In one respect, Gergen and those who share his views are correct. The 111th Congress not only failed to pass a budget but even failed to propose one—the first time since 1974 a Congress failed to pass a budget. That is why last year’s budget was being debated last week.

But the showdown that almost lead to a shutdown is the aesthetics of divided government. We might as well get used to it. What we have, after all, are two political parties that hold different views and represent different interests, negotiating hard and down to the wire to get the best agreement they could. It isn’t pretty or perfect by any means, but it is the natural result of the system of government our founders put in place. And lawmakers were acting as people in many other areas of life do, from professional sports (see the NFL players versus the NFL owners) to people buying homes and attending yard sales to political commentators negotiating television contracts. It’s easy for pundits to lecture lawmakers about finding areas of common ground and compromise. But when you’re actually fighting for principles and issues you believe in, it gets more complicated. And in the case of last week’s budget showdown, it had a fine (and predictable) outcome: after having issued threats and denunciations, a good agreement was struck at the last minute. A shutdown was averted. And a budget was passed, although much later than it should have been.

The results matter more than the process—and the process really wasn’t quite as unseemly and upsetting as some would have it.



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