Finding an American who does not think our politics are dysfunctional is much harder these days than finding Waldo. Approval of Congress hovers around 10 percent, limited, John McCain often jokes, to “paid staff and blood relatives.” Of course, Congress rarely enjoys a high approval rating, even when things are operating well. But to the two of us, with more than 42 years each of experience immersed in the corridors of Washington at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, this dysfunction is worse than we have ever seen it, and it is not limited to Capitol Hill. The partisan and ideological polarization from which we now suffer comes at a time when critical problems cry out for resolution, making for a particularly toxic mix.
It is not going to be easy to find structural fixes to our problems because many of them flow from an increasingly corrosive culture, not just from institutional breakdowns. We have many ideas for significant reforms and other changes, but before we can consider remedies for our political dysfunction, we need to rid ourselves of much seductive wishful thinking. Here are five bromides to avoid.