Washington, Unchanging

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First Read tells us how we got to where we are today:

Same as it ever was? Our final how-we-got-here point is the Democrats’ inability to change Washington, at least in the minds of the electorate. Yes, the Obama White House has been more transparent than its predecessors and has implemented rules to discourage the revolving door between public service and lobbying. And, yes, the Democratic-controlled Congress implemented unprecedented rules to police ethical violations. But the partisanship — as well as all the deals Democrats cut to pass legislation over the last two years — has made the public believe that Washington hasn’t changed under Democratic rule. In our August NBC/WSJ poll, 65% said that Obama had fallen short of their expectations to change Washington.

Maybe — though my guess is that this is a lot like “negative advertising”: something that everybody says they hate even though they actually respond quite positively to it. I honestly doubt that there’s more than one or two people in a hundred who care much about the deals that Democrats cut to pass the healthcare bill, for example. They either like the bill or they don’t, and the ones who don’t just toss the dealmaking stuff onto their laundry list of why it was such a terrible idea. The longer the list the better, right?

Of course, to the extent this is true, it just goes to show how badly incentives have evolved in Washington. There’s always been a reluctance to allow an opposing president to claim a big legislative victory shortly before an election year, but that’s slowly morphed into an active desire to prevent anything from happening at any time because the opposition knows the president will get all the blame for Washington’s toxic atmosphere no matter who’s doing the obstructing. My guess is that this doesn’t work quite as well as everyone thinks — a lot of its “success” this cycle is in reality just a reaction to the bad economy — but it almost doesn’t matter. Once it becomes conventional wisdom, we’re stuck. Both parties will do it forever. Blecch.


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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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