A Site for Scholarly Commentary, Debate and Media Resources for the 2016 Election

National Issues

The need for change we can believe in

“Change.” It was such a simple slogan, but it worked. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign mantra offered hope of a new era of U.S. politics, one of respect and cooperation rather than rancor and division.

Eight years later, a new political era is certainly upon us, but it’s not the one Obama envisioned. It’s an era of unyielding partisanship, hostility and polarization.

Is there any hope that Obama’s successor will change this? If not, then we need to rethink how we evaluate candidates.

The recent surge of support for Bernie Sanders has been met by a backlash of those who question how he would get any of his ambitious policy proposals through a gridlocked Congress. But it’s not just Sanders.

How would Hilary Clinton pass gun-control measures that failed in the Senate last time around despite rare support from the NRA? How would Marco Rubio push through immigration reform that the Gang of 8 could not? And how would Donald Trump or Ted Cruz implement any of their proposed policies when even members of their own party don’t want to work with them?

When we evaluate candidates we need to ask not just “Who has the best vision for America?” but also “Who can turn their vision into reality?” Right now, I would say the answer to that latter question is no one.

For months the candidates from both parties have sparred over the details of their proposed reforms to immigration, health care, social security and gun control. Largely absent from the discussion has been any talk of how to overcome the schisms that produce political paralysis. This needs to change.

Fixing America’s broken politics should be the number one issue this election. It is the one issue that prevents meaningful progress on so many other fronts. Needed reforms to immigration, education, gun laws and health care are unlikely to happen without a major change in the way Washington works.

What can actually be done? In his final State of the Union, Obama called for an end to the practice of gerrymandering congressional districts. To some it may seem insignificant, but it is a perfect example of a seemingly small change that could actually help ease the gridlock in Washington.

Of course enacting such electoral reform requires overcoming the very gridlock that necessitates it. And there’s the rub. It’s the dilemma that no candidate is talking about but every one of them should be trying to solve. Everything else depends on it.

Without a fix for what ails Washington, the candidates’ bold proposals are mostly change we shouldn’t believe will ever occur.


Aaron Ancell, from Vancouver, Canada, is a Ph.D. student in philosophy at Duke.


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