Structural factors, not a lack of “new blood”, is what’s driving American politics right now.
One of the persistent myths in American politics is that we need “new blood” in politics or limiting the power of “career politicians” if we want to fix things in Washington. But as Jonathan Bernstein pointed out yesterday, we’ve already seen a huge influx of new folks coming into the House and Senate in the past ten years:
The most notable trend continues to be turnover. Fewer than half of the 435 members of the House were in office when George W. Bush was president. In the Senate, only 46 remain of those who served when Bush was in the White House. And only 35 senators, 20 of them Republicans, were in the Senate when the Republicans last had the majority in 2006.
This of course wasn’t driven by new laws or structural changes in American politics, instead it was driven by big wave elections for Democrats in 2006 and 2008 and big wins for Republicans in 2010 and 2014. Which means it’s the new people, not the old tired hacks, in Congress that are giving us things like government shutdowns and self-created debt crises.
The big thing to remember here is that the main thing that shapes our politics is structural realities, not the agency of individual elected officials. So while you can get lots of new people in Congress after a big wave election like 2014, not much will necessarily get done over the next two years because everything passed into law has to be agreed upon by both Congress and the White House. Does anyone really think that President Obama and John Boehner are going to start agreeing about stuff now compared to 2011-2014?
Likewise it doesn’t really matter if you elect new people who claim they can “break the gridlock” through of the power of their “new ideas” because we are living in a time of intense party polarization. The gridlock will continue because it isn’t being caused by the choices of individual members of Congress. In other words the bipartisan compromises of the 80’s aren’t very possible today because our Congress is a very different type of organization.
Giving one party unified control of government could result in big changes in how Washington works, but baring that you’d have to change the structural realities if you want something different than what we got. Just electing new people isn’t going to cause major changes in and of itself.
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