Distrust of government is as old as the Republic. In fact, it's in some ways the basis of the Republic; the framers took great pains to dilute and spread out the powers of the central government. They did not want an overweening concentration of power at the center of our national life. At the same time, they arrived at those checks and balances through a spirit of compromise--something that's notably absent today in Washington. On the final day of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin noted that every member should "doubt a little of his own infallibility."
I remember when I first worked in our Washington bureau in the late 1980s being amazed at the easy camaraderie that existed across the aisle in Congress. The public jockeying seemed more like acting. Today, the contentiousness is more visceral and not just for show--although preening for the cameras and one's constituents is always part of what drives members on both sides.
As Peter Beinart, David Von Drehle and Newt Gingrich note in their stories that are part of our "frozen government" cover package, trust in government is extremely low these days. But trust in government is not by any means a pure virtue; after all, trust in government was high in the 1950s, as some have noted, when the government told schoolchildren they would be safe in the event of a nuclear attack if they put their heads under their desks.
But a certain amount of trust in government is necessary to try to solve difficult problems--and difficult problems are pretty much what we'll be looking at for the foreseeable future: the national debt; the rising costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The ability to solve these problems means asking people to make a sacrifice, which requires a spirit of compromise and bipartisanship. Only then will trust in government begin to rise, and only then will voters begin to respond. What I can't agree with is the notion, expressed by the Tea Partyers profiled in Von Drehle's terrific story, that government has no role in solving large national problems. And, by the way, to hear those voices, we deployed five reporters, a photographer and a videographer to Tea Party gatherings in five states.
As part of our discussion of the problems in Washington, we are working with our partner CNN on its timely weeklong series of programming called Broken Government. Its notion is that Republicans, Democrats and independents can agree on one thing: government isn't working. CNN will look at both the frustrating problems and at the possible innovative solutions, and we will partner with it in that effort. Our superb TIME political team will be on CNN during the week, and in addition to the stories in this issue, we will be producing daily stories on TIME.com Karen Tumulty will be writing on the filibuster, Jay Newton-Small on term limits, Michael Scherer on bipartisanship and Massimo Calabresi on investigating government. The series is being overseen by our Washington bureau chief Michael Duffy and Daniel Eisenberg, the executive editor of TIME.com So tune in to CNN for a discussion of Broken Government starting Feb. 22, and check out our series on TIME.com
Richard Stengel, MANAGING EDITOR