And So America's Skewed Democracy Lurches on Toward Its Next Crisis

A last-minute deal to raise the debt ceiling and end the shutdown solves nothing. US politics is stuck in chronic dysfunction

Just as the House of Representatives was finally voting to reopen the government and save the nation from reneging on debt and inviting a downgrade, a House stenographer appears to have suffered a breakdown. Grabbing the microphone, she started defending God's honour before the nation.

He will not be mocked. The greatest deception here is this is not one nation under God. It never was. The constitution would not have been written by freemasons. They go against God. You cannot serve two masters.

After being removed and questioned, she was taken away for psychiatric evaluation.

Her mental health is no laughing matter. But the description of her interjection by much of the media as a "bizarre" interruption to the House vote deserves interrogation.

Because everything about this was bizarre. From the moment Ted Cruz got up and started quoting Ashton Kutcher and talking about Star Wars into the wee hours, this entire process has been nothing but bizarre. America, once again, took the familiar road from the height of dysfunction to the brink of default - until reality grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and slapped it straight, before it did itself and others grave harm.

Because America is powerful, the world has to take notice of these self-inflicted crises. But because it has become so predictably dysfunctional and routinely reckless, they are difficult to take seriously or, at times, even fathom. To the rest of the world and much of America, this is yet another dangerous folly. The fact that the nation did not default should come as cold comfort. The fact that we are even talking about it defaulting is a problem.

This particular flirtation with fate was driven by a visceral opposition to the moderate provision of something most western nations take for granted: healthcare. The reforms they opposed had been been passed by the very body of which they are a member and had been been approved by the US supreme court, the guardian of the very constitution they claimed to be defending. For this, they started a fight they never had the numbers to win and carried on waging it long after it was clear they had lost.

"We're not going to be disrespected," insisted Republican Indiana Congressman Marlin Stutzman, last week. "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."

Nor did anyone else. That's why the Republicans went down to humiliating defeat. As South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham admitted:

We took some bread crumbs and left an entire meal on the table. This has been a really bad two weeks for the Republican party.

But to couch this episode only as a Democratic victory would really miss the point. For the process by which such a shutdown and breakdown could happen is not just the work of a few cranky Tea Party types. It is rooted in an electoral system that is heavily gerrymandered, where only those who can pay, can play. The reason the Republican dissenters could proceed with such unstrategic zeal is because they are in safe, rigged seats and so risk no challenge at the polls.

Indeed, given that they only have to fear nomination within their own party, rather than election by the nation at large, there is an incentive to act out in this way because it appeals to the base. When constituencies are so heavily contorted in the interests of incumbents that there is precious little consequence to anything a politician does, then you don't really have a democracy, you just have the vote.

This temporary resolution buys them time, but it does not by them any real solution - since there is absolutely nothing to prevent a repeat performance. Which is what it is: a performance. As said Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid put it on Wednesday night:

I'm tired. Concluding this crisis is historic. But let's be honest: this was pain inflicted on the nation for no good reason. We cannot ... we cannot, cannot make the same mistakes again.

Unfortunately, they can. Almost certainly, they will.

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