That Congress is bitterly divided is no secret. Unable to compromise on fiscal policy and intent on torpedoing each other’s political positions, Democrats and Republicans demonstrated this in October when they committed to a strategy of mutually assured destruction. As the fiscal year rolled over and Uncle Sam’s credit limit dried up, both parties decided to play a game of high-stakes chicken, pitting an apparently unstoppable force (the will of conservatives to effect fiscal reform) against an immovable object (the will of Democrats to enact the Affordable Care Act and maintain social programs.)
As a result of the impasse, parts of the federal government were shut down for 16 days as policymakers tripped over themselves, dug idealogical trenches, and unproductively lobbed rhetorical grenades back and forth. Congress’ approval rating tanked to just 11 percent, slid further to 9 percent by November, and has since recovered to just 13 percent. According to Gallup, a full 65 percent of Americans say that they are “dissatisfied” with the way the American system of government is working, and a record low of just 17 percent of votes believe that their own representatives in Congress should be re-elected.
The divide between Democrats and Republicans has only been agitated and widened by a clash (call it a difference of opinions) within the GOP. Many people on both sides of the political spectrum place fault with ultra-conservative factions within the Republican party that engaged in tactics that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said led to “a very predictable disaster,” meaning the shutdown and the subsequent fallout.
Speaking on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Thursday, Boehner was asked whether “this GOP infighting, is this the worst you’ve ever seen?” Boehner balked humorously (you can watch the clip below) before admitting “well, maybe it is — it’s bad.” Boehner, as the man responsible for ”trying to get 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow long enough to pass a bill,” has been a central figure in the ongoing debate, ostensibly leading House Republicans through the October shutdown and the stopgap resolution. Those on the left have criticized him for not being able to control his members, while those on the right — the far right — have criticized him for just about everything.
“I don’t have any problem with the Tea Party,” Boehner told Leno, but he added, referring to certain groups that “purport to represent” them, “There’s nothing I could do that was ever conservative enough for them.” The effort to appease these groups (and the people they are supposed to represent) has forced many members of the GOP to lean more toward the conservative side of the spectrum — more toward the base — that they perhaps otherwise would, which is one force fueling the overall divisiveness of Congress. A general unwillingness to shift toward the right side of the spectrum — and, with Obamacare, a step further left — is another force. Together, they have helped create one of the most toxic political environments in history.
“What’s happened in Washington over the past 20 years — 24 years that I’ve been there — is that there’s not as much common ground as there used to be,” Boehner told Leno.