I am starting to wonder if C-Span is the real cause of gridlock in DC. Specifically, the Sunday night airing of the UK’s Prime Minister’s Questions. It does seem like at least one clear vector for the increasingly venomous and bombastic tone that has emerged over the past decade – mostly in the Republican Congressional ranks.
- A whole generation of anglophilic, over-educated, wonky nerds grew up thrilling to the no-holds barred joys of British-style Parliamentary politics. These bow-tied twerps descend on Washington, either as Congresscritters or, more often, staffers.
- The problem is that we don’t have a parliamentary system. The barbs thrown by the UK’s minority party are so sharp precisely because they otherwise have no actual power to block or impede legislation. With nothing at stake, they is no reason to restrain their rhetoric. In fact, the rhetoric is the only way they can make an impression.
That last nuance seems to have been lost in translation. Here, a minority party can do a whole lot of damage. With that comes responsibility – at least in theory. In practice, there seems to be no ownership of the outcomes. Instead we get this weird strain of legislative nihilism. In many of these fights, there seem to be no intended end game. The act of opposition matters more than what is being opposed. This is moderately interesting as performance art, but it is poisonous to how our system is structured.
Admittedly, CSPAN-enabled fan-boyism probably isn’t the main cause. But if only they’d watched Masterpiece Theater instead….