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In a recent set of posts on the Washington Post's invaluable Wonkblog, George Washington University scholar John Sides argues that the problem with Congress is not gerrymandering, as so many (including Obama) have maintained. It is instead that the political parties have become more ideological, nudged in part by local party officials, who impose more-stringent litmus tests for candidates on spending, taxing and social issues. I would add to those factors the need for endless fundraising and today's partisan media, which also feed this process, though I would not discount gerrymandering. Many forces have created the current political system.
If Washington can tackle some of the outstanding issues facing the country, it could create a virtuous cycle. The American economy is recovering. The housing market is slowly re-emerging and will boom again as America's population grows over the next few decades. The energy revolution is lowering costs for manufacturing while adding jobs in the energy sector. America's financial sector is in better shape than those of most rich countries. And American households have rebuilt their balance sheets; our savings rate today is higher than that of frugal Canada. A new Congressional Budget Office report has deficits returning to precrisis levels in a few years.
We don't need a grand bargain. Even moderate reform--on immigration, gun control, energy policy and (most difficult) the budget--would give a powerful boost to the country, beyond the specific economic impact. Politicians could demonstrate that they can actually govern. Everyone would get some credit. America would have found its center.
TO READ MORE BY FAREED ZAKARIA, GO TO time.com/zakaria