Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. "People just know more about the ins and outs of
Washington because of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. Somebody will
have tweeted what's happened at a closed-door meeting before it's even over."
But count U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., among those wearied by the legislative paralysis. "There are days when I enjoy what I'm doing," he says. "But there are other days when I think, 'What in the world am I doing here? We've been up here all week and haven't done a thing.'ââ‚¬‰"
What others said:
--"It's mainly tribalism (in Congress). The chief job for members of Congress is to be unified. And they're given the message of the week. They're not encouraged to think for themselves. And they have to cater to a donor base that is pretty partisan." -- New York Times columnist David Brooks
--"There's always been partisanship. ... But I do think we have more today than in the 1990s, when I was active in Washington..." -- Former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles
--"(According to the Constitution,) being in Congress was not to be a love feast. It was to be a hard-fought contest, during which the best ideas emerge. But it can be taken to extremes." -- Former U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C.
--"Do you know of any members (of Congress) who got 9 percent (of the vote in November)? It's easy to hate Congress and like your congressman." -- U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., referring to the record-low congressional approval rating last year
How did American politics get so partisan, polarized?
Some social scientists have a one-word answer for how Congress got to be so averse to compromise: sorting.
It happens when people choose to cluster with others who are like them, who believe the same things they do.
Sorting has changed America's two major political parties from big-tent coalitions that won elections by accommodating many points of view to ideological clubs that expect members to be in lockstep on issues. Compromise with the other party? That's considered "sleeping with the enemy," in the words of Norm Ornstein, a leading authority on Congress.
Conservative Democrats, mostly in the South, and liberal Republicans, mostly in the Northeast, used to serve as bridges between the parties and were part of the broad center that once characterized American politics. You'd need a bloodhound to find more than a handful of either these days -- especially in the halls of Congress.
What's left is a conservative party, a liberal party and -- says Eric Heberlig, a professor of political science at UNC Charlotte -- "no middle anymore to create any type of compromise."
This year's election brought the defeat of U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell, a moderate "Blue Dog Democrat" from North Carolina, and U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, a moderate Republican in Massachusetts. Kissell will be replaced by a very conservative Republican, Brown by a very liberal Democrat.
This march toward like-mindedness also affects people's decisions about where to live and what to watch on TV -- two other forms of sorting that have also made Congress more polarized.
"People who are more progressive, more in favor of government, socially liberal, secular, are moving to the cities," says David Schanzer, a Duke
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