Finding the Common Good in an Era of Dysfunctional Governance

The framers designed a constitutional system in which the government would play a vigorous role in securing the liberty and well-being of a large and diverse population. They built a political system around a number of key elements, including debate and deliberation, divided powers competing with one another, regular order in the legislative process, and avenues to limit and punish corruption. America in recent years has struggled to adhere to each of these principles, leading to a crisis of governability and legitimacy. The roots of this problem are twofold. The first is a serious mismatch between our political parties, which have become as polarized and vehemently adversarial as parliamentary parties, and a separation-of-powers governing system that makes it extremely difficult for majorities to act. The second is the asymmetric character of the polarization. The Republican Party has become a radical insurgency—ideologically extreme, scornful of facts and compromise, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. Securing the common good in the face of these developments will require structural changes but also an informed and strategically focused citizenry.

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Editor’s Note: The above is from the Spring 2013 issue of Daedalus (a journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences) co-edited by William A. Galston (Brookings) and Norman J. Ornstein (American Enterprise Institute), which contains essays on the topic of “American Democracy and the Common Good” by Galston, Brookings’ Thomas Mann, and a number of other noted scholars.  The essays range from theoretical and historical inquiries to examinations of specific institutions in the public and private sectors and in civil society.