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February 26th, 2010
07:00 AM ET

Avlon: Blame poisonous politics for broken government

Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is a senior political columnist for The Daily Beast and author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America." Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="CNN independent analyst John Avlon says any hope of changing the partisan culture of Washington is a long way away."]

By John Avlon, Special to CNN

Government seems broken. Congress is more polarized than at any time in recent history. Patriotism is confused with partisanship.

How did we get here? It requires a look at the past year to see how wingnuts hijacked our politics.

“I hope he fails.” With those four words, Rush Limbaugh coined what would become Republican strategy. It’s a telling sign of the times when professional polarizers in talk radio give talking points to party leadership, instead of vice versa.

But of course, it takes two to have bipartisanship and neither party has a monopoly on virtue or vice. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deserves her share of the blame. After President Obama delegated what would become the $787 billion stimulus bill, Republicans were shut out of the negotiating process, undercutting President Obama’s claims to represent bipartisanship. She ultimately gained no Republican votes and lost the support of eleven centrist Democrats.

As Blue Dog Congressman Jim Cooper from Tennessee said at the time, while summing up the perspective of the liberal House leadership aligned with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying, “They don’t mind the partisan fighting ‘cause that’s what they are used to. In fact, they’re really good at it. And they’re a little bit worried about what a post-partisan future might look like.” The Progressive Change Campaign Committee started running attack ads against centrist Democrats who voted with their districts rather than with the party line.

Suspicions and recriminations have only increased since then. The filibuster is now almost a daily part of life in Congress. Democrats were furious when Sen. Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, put a blanket hold on 70 of President Obama’s nominations. It wasn’t much different than stunts the Democrats were pulling when the GOP had control of Congress. In 2004, Sen. Harry Reid put a hold on President Bush’s executive branch nominees because Reid wanted an aide appointed to a committee on nuclear regulation.

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Now, even attempts at public bipartisanship are dismissed as a show trail. House Minority Leader John Boehner captured the pervasive distrust that borders on conspiracy theory when he characterized yesterday's health care summit as a trap, saying “I don't want to walk into some trap. I don't want to walk into some political event…I don't want to walk into some set-up; I don't know who's going to be there," Boehner said. "I don't know how big the room's going to be. I don't know what the set-up is going to be." It sounds like he was expecting a mob hit rather than a meeting of the different branches of government.

It's safe to say that any hope of changing the poisonously partisan culture of Washington is still a long way away.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Leslie

    I hear a lot about voting congressional incumbents out and putting in fresh blood. Let's see how many of these people actually go out and vote. I suspect they are mostly winers.

    March 9, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  2. JD

    Here's an idea. How about the Democrats live up to their promises of an ethical congress and transparency in their dealings instead of the backroom deals that screw hard-working Americans and give sweetheart deals to thuggish unions?

    And while we're at it, enough with the "everything is Bush's fault." The Democrats have had congress for YEARS and only made things worse. Time to take some responsibility or join your constituents on the unemployment line.

    March 9, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  3. operations

    Time for a moderate party.

    Maybe with 30% of the congressional seats held by a third party, the other two would realize that they have to bargain a bit, and act responsibly, to get what they want.

    And maybe they would realize that what they want had better be what is best for the people.

    March 9, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  4. eric smalls

    Why is it when Republicans speak of Health Care Reform they claim polls show Americans don't want it. Where are they getting the"facts" that support that claim. I don't know about the rest of you, but I've never been polled, my family, or friends have never been polled.

    Their only real agenda is stopping THIS PRESIDENT, at the cost of the American People. I heard a comedian say that he could fix the Health Care Issue in 30 min, by taking away the health care of all the politicians, and see how fast they'll pass something then.

    March 5, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  5. Marvin

    Of the 17,000,000 uninsured who making $50,000 or "More" what are the reason (s) they choose not to buy ?

    Just to say they, "choose" not to buy is not enough to base an opinion.
    They may have an existing condition that would make insurance too costly, They may have too many other financial obligations to be able to afford insurance.

    Please provide more information why they don't have insurance.

    March 4, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  6. Kathryn Arnold

    The 47 Million "uninsured" number has problems. Of that number 17 million make $50,000.00 a year or MORE. They can afford insurance and choose not to buy it. Ten million of the 47 million are not US citizens. This group includes approximately 8 million illegal aliens and the balance are people legally in the US working on visas or are students. The illegal aliens are getting health care at tax payer expense now. Visit any emergency room in the US. Several friends in the healthcare system have independently confrimed this. Additionally, illegal aliens are getting healthcare at the county healthcare facilities in Fulton County, GA. I have personally witnessed and confirmed this with employees at two of these fracilities.
    Check out Clark Howard's suggestions for improving healtcare availability in this country. His plan is better than either party's.

    March 2, 2010 at 8:44 pm |

    Great comments and suggestions Scott and everyone.
    Let's all watch FOX news for truth in the news and to support protection of our lives and liberties. The Obama house is corrupt and thinks chicago politics will keep Americans down–I got news for them. When the going gets tougher, Americans enjoy the fight.
    Vote out the Democrats for not using reasonable judgement rather than sticking to their party lines.

    March 1, 2010 at 9:00 am |
  8. Mitchell

    Patsy you are not alone in not having you comments printed. But you need to remember that this is CNN and they continue to pour the cool-aid in favor of the liberals and the socolists and the communists and anyone else that would turn our nation into a bankrupt and socolist country. Want to hear the DNC talking points all day long....tune in to CNN.

    March 1, 2010 at 8:59 am |
  9. patsy

    So why is it CNN that you would not add my comment for 3 days now? Maybe there are things that you do not want your viewers to know?

    March 1, 2010 at 7:43 am |
  10. DBark

    The Dem's I know naively blame the sudden turn in electorate on general voter anger at the government. Truth is, voters don't like big government adding 35,000 new employee's each month and shoveling $190 MM out the door each hour. Only the Beltway Ivy League Bureaucrats actually believe the theories that tell them we are are saving our future by spending. The media and government create a circle of perpetual support – for causes the reasonable majority do not support. All while the sycophant class of healthy individual's look for their "fair" share from the dwindling population of hapless privately employed tax payers.

    Note to everyone – if your state governement has not wildly overspent itself into the brink of bankrupcy, you better hurry up and get on board, cause the federal government is printing 24/7 to remove any need for responsibility.

    February 27, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
  11. Scott

    The real problem with government is the entire 'Party System'. Everything gets polarized along party lines, and nothing gets done. The American people should vote to abolish the party system, and make each politician "live or die" on his or her own merits. Far too many of these politicians are elected simply because they identify themselves as Republican or Democrat, and run on "party lines", not on thier own merits and beliefs. Then when they get to Washington, they simply follow along the "party lines" because they have no personal beliefs or ideals of their own.

    I agree, we need real people in Washington. People who have worked in the private sector within the last century. People who know what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck, day to day, wondering if they are going to have enough money to buy food for thier family and pay the rent at the same time. If we put people like that into Congress, I would bet that some serious work would get done. Work that would actually benefit the common person rather then the corporate fatcats and the multi-millionaire "in-crowd" in Washington.

    Come November, vote out every incumbent you can. Put real people with real ideals in Washington. If enough people do this, maybe those who aren't up for re-election this year will get the message. I doubt it thought, they really aren't all that bright.

    February 27, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  12. Ken Beckmann

    We need term-limits imposed on congress.
    I think it will continue to get worse until our elected officials have nothing to lose by doing the right thing.
    We all know term-limits are the answer, but how do we get them to vote themselves out of office? National Referendum?

    February 26, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  13. patsy

    The last statement was just plain ridiculous! It is not only Republicans who are guilty of these kinds of acts against the American People! Where have you been for the past year?? This has to be the most manipulative and quite deceiving administration that I can recall seeing in my lifetime! Are you blind? ...or just trying to mislead the American People?? They woke up! The demos want nothing more than our money and POWER! I am a democrat, for today, but by the time we vote in November, I will not be! It is a good thing that Americans really are NOT as stupid as to fall for stories like this one again! The health care in America is the best! Fix the problem without stripping us of our liberties! If we stick with the constitution, everything would work out just fine! That is why it was written, to protect us all in the end! My vote is on the constitution, and to vote them all out in 2010/2012! We need adults in these offices, not children! It also would not hurt to put people back into these seats that 1. love their country 2. Have the country and its people's best interest in heart and 3. PROTECT OUR LAND AND PEOPLE! Not bribery, lies, and truly the most horrible and immoral behavior in the history of the USA! Get these demos out before we lose all credibility in the world!!

    February 26, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  14. Clem Valys

    Health Care Costs going Up or Down.
    I am so disappointed that when I heard on the news this morning over yesterdays Obama health care meeting that you came out with a statement after checking the facts that Obama was right. Everybody that listens to your show takes that as a fact! You did not go into the detail of stating that there is another side/view to the story. The president was right is the only thing that stays in a persons mind.
    I already do not watch some of YOUR network programs because of this reason. Now CNN is removed from my favorite list.

    February 26, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  15. hceel

    Republicans keep saying their doing what Americans want, like opposing health care reform. But they’re doing opposite of what the American people want. Just take a survey every time they say that, and truth will be known. The American people don’t have the Republican views. They mostly have Independent views and want them to work together with the Democrats to get problems solved. Republicans are the blame for broken politics by using metaphors and repetitious suggestion to mislead the people. Republicans receive under-the-table money from big corporations to pass laws to help their business even if it hurts America. The nation would be aghast if they knew the truth and scope of money laundering by the Republicans. Power is money, money is power it goes hand-in-hand. As much as I like money, I know the consequences of worshiping the almighty dollar. When we make to big a profit, then it becomes our god and clouds our prerogative. We have to work together for mankind or USA will undoubtedly fail. United we stand, Divided we fall.

    February 26, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  16. Sherry

    The narrow interests of opposing views are holding up health care reform. If our government cannot do this without sweet heart deals, and modifying the language to appease others – it IS truly worthless. But then no worry for them – they have their cadillac plans.

    February 26, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  17. Gene Schmidt

    The real problem with Washington is both parties are right. If nothing is

    done very few will be able to afford health insurance. If you force insurance companies to anything they will go broke. So no one wins.
    Some drug store chains are setting up clinics in their stores even
    Walmart is is part of the answer. Putting medical records on computer
    would also help. Their is a lot of other things that could be done including
    limiting congress and the President to one six term and out. If I can
    come up with these ideas with only a grammer school education
    why can't Washington.

    February 26, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  18. Mitchell

    The liberals have never had any problem giving away anything that did not belong to them. Obama and the democrats are trying hard to increase the speed limit on the road to a socolist and bankrupt america.

    February 26, 2010 at 8:50 am |
  19. Rich

    With regards to broken government and Health Care reform, if we look at the 47 million people that are uninsured, how would they be broken down into Democrats of Republicans? My guess is that over 90% are Democrats or Independents. That said, why would the Republicans support an expensive Health Care reform bill that provides these people with insurance? They are not their constituents! These are not people that would vote for Republicans and in fact, supporting this bill would anger the Republican's constituents, costing them votes and potentially their jobs.

    The majority of the cost in the bill is providing insurance, and or subsidies, for the uninsured. The funny thing is that on the Republican Senate website the Republicans number one item on their list of Health Care reform items is providing insurance for the 47 million uninsured. The exact quote is; "Focus on health coverage for all 300 million Americans, including the 47 million uninsured". Obviously this is rhetoric only, since they are not willing to vote for any version of a bill that includes the cost of insuring the uninsured.

    I hope this issue gets put to one the Republican leaders directly. I'd love to hear how they answer (directly answer, not one of those answers that avoids the question).


    February 26, 2010 at 8:16 am |
  20. ray lafrance

    our Goverment is filled with is filled with a bunch of babies who wont or will not play nice.....we need real people in washington

    February 26, 2010 at 8:14 am |

    Government is broken but not for the reasons John Avion would have us believe. If he thinks he is the only smart one in these United States, he needs to rethink his position. He, like our current Government, think Americans are stupid! I assure all that we are not. We do not need John or the government to do our thinking for us. Although some like Limbaugh and "listen" to his show, he does not affect how we think or act. Rush did not say " I hope he fails" following the election but only after Obama revealed his true colors as a progressive and a liar. Hope and change–transparency–did you see any John?

    February 26, 2010 at 7:33 am |