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How to Solve US Political Gridlock: Dual Survival

By Shlomo Maital

Senators Flake and Heinrich

   An Amazon Reality show, Dual Survival, shown as well on Discovery Channel, features two sitting U.S. Senators, Jeff Flake (Republican, Arizona) and Martin Heinrich (Democrat, New Mexico), dumped on a deserted island in the Marshall Islands, and required to survive for 7 days.   They have to find water, make shelter, find food, and in general work closely together.  

     They do succeed, and together build a raft that takes them beyond the surf and the coral reef to their extraction ship.

       While on the island, they commiserate about Americans’ low opinion of the Senate, about who is to blame (“Americans blame both parties”, they say), and note that Republicans and Democrats simply do not meet and talk together, but rather, within each party, talk only to each other.

     They vow to have lunch together once a week.

       So here we have a solution to the toxic political atmosphere in the US, which allows a leading Republican senator (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) to say, we will do everything to make Obama a one-term president, rather than we will do everything to improve the wellbeing of ordinary Americans. (He failed – but apparently, aggressive partisanship beats legislative productivity).

       Send the 52 Republican senators off to desert islands, with the 48 Democrat senators, in pairs. Give them knives and an (empty) water bottle. Work together, or starve and dehydrate. Come back and tell us if you can work together.

   Hey, it worked for Flack and Heinrich.   And as for the catastrophic McConnell Health Bill — Republicans barely talked about it with Republicans, let alone with Democrats.  One of the strongest arguments Republicans put forward, for the Bill:  If we don’t pass it, we will (horrors!!) have to talk to the Democrats on a compromise.  Talk to Democrats????!!!!!   Only on a desert island….

The Obama Excuse

By Shlomo Maital


President Obama, and the Democratic Party, appear to be headed for a larger-than-usual mid-term election defeat on Nov. 4, with the Republicans gaining control of the Senate and retaining control of the House.   But for America, this may not (believe it or not) be a bad thing.

   Obama and the Democrats have often used the obstructionist Republican-controlled House as the excuse for their lack of achievements. And indeed, the approval rating of Congress is abysmally low, lower than Obama’s! Americans are simply fed up with Washington and with both political parties.   Contrast this with German Chancellor Merkel’s 78 per cent approval rating, one other leaders can only dream about.

   But a chart in the recent issue of The Economist sheds some light on the Obama excuse. President Ronald Reagan faced a Democratic House and Senate in 1986-88, yet as a lame duck president in his last two years, passed a major tax cut bill. President George H.W. Bush faced a hostile House and Senate in 1988-90. Bill Clinton had a Republican House and Senate in 1994-2000, for fully six of his eight years as president, yet got the U.S. economy rolling. George Bush faced a hostile House and Senate in 2006-8….     And Obama had both House and Senate FOR him in 2008-10, controlled by Democrats, and… achieved, well,   achieved…. Uh…..?  

   To be an effective president and leader, in the face of House and Senate opposition, you need to be very skillful at compromise, at dialogue and at collaboration. Some U.S. presidents were. Obama wasn’t. It is not too late. He may yet learn, and may yet leverage the fact that if the Republicans do win control of Congress, and continue to obstruct, they will be severely blamed by the American electorate, and may lose any chance of regaining the Presidency in 2016.

   In President Lyndon Johnson, America had a president with long long experience in the Senate, who knew how to compromise and how to deal. In President Obama, America has an inexperienced President who is just now beginning to understand how to work with Congress. It has been six wasted years.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital