Is Washington Broken Compared to Its Achievements in the '50s?





Even in the midwinter mess of 2010, it’s not hard to imagine a Washington that works. It wouldn’t even seem to require that much change.

Politicians in both parties would display a little more regard for one another, and the institutions they serve. The institutions themselves would impose a little more discipline and efficiency. Voters would give leaders a little more trust.

In fact, that’s a pretty good description of how Washington functioned for two decades after World War II, with strong results. Republicans and Democrats joined forces to enact the Marshall Plan, establish the federal highway system, advance civil rights, create Medicare and preside over robust economic growth. The war itself had much to do with that record, by helping pull the nation out of its economic problems as the United States led the Allies to victory over the Axis powers. The common efforts of what’s now called the Greatest Generation deepened faith in American institutions....

Can Washington again find that “seriousness and common purpose,” as President Obama put it last week? Or do partisan polarization, special-interest money, snarling news outlets and public disaffection ensure gridlock into the indefinite future?...

One year later, despite drawing a larger popular-vote majority than Ronald Reagan did in 1980 and with his party controlling Congress, Mr. Obama confronts an angry public, re-energized Republicans and the possibility of crippling midterm defeats in November. In Washington, the moderate Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana cited the Capitol Hill muddle in announcing last week that he would not seek re-election....


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