With the end of the year quickly approaching, I think it’s as good a time as any to take a step back and look at the year that we’ve had. More than likely, we all use different markers and measurements when considering success or failure. And because many of these are highly individualized, unique and personal.
Let’s consider something that influences each and every one us, whether we like it or not — the United States government.
To say it was a whirlwind year would be an understatement. On January 20, President Obama was inaugurated for his second term. He ran on a platform committed to “moving America forward” defined by rebuilding the middle class, creating an America where everyone plays by the same rules; a nation stronger together, stronger and safer on the world stage. Regardless of your personal political opinion, his reelection was momentous but also had cumbersome implications for the political process. This year, our nation was up against a divided government; a situation which exhibited the highest degree of political polarization in recent history.
Let’s take a look at the major political benchmarks from this past year. Whether or not you agree with the policies that were brought to the forefront this year, I think it’s a good way to examine the functionality of our political system.
As the end of the year looms, let’s look at what the 113th Congress accomplished this year. Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act and the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, to name a few. It’s not that many of the laws signed into action weren’t important, but many of them were largely commemorative or ceremonial in nature. Congress struggled with inaction, party competition and gridlock.
By July, they had only managed to pass 15 laws — indicative of the least amount ever passed since data collection began in 1948. While they managed to pass some minor legislation, highly impactful, albeit contentious issues such as the proposed comprehensive immigration, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act and the Farm Bill remain unresolved.
Comprehensive immigration fell off the radar early in the year with the Senate and House unable to agree to identical legislation. Speaker Boehner refuses to let ENDA come to a vote in the House, although it already passed in the Senate. And as Congress desperately tries to come to resolution over the Farm Bill — legislation with real-world ramifications for much of our middle class — it seems highly unlikely that they will come to an agreement before the year is up.
In the “signs of a functional government column” goes the Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, a huge triumph for the LGBT movement. While standing, DOMA allowed states without same-sex marriage provisions to disregard these contracts made in states allowing same-sex marriage. Regardless of whether the Supreme Court struck it down because it violated the Due Process provisions guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment or because American political culture is in the midst of a paradigm shift, with DOMA out of the way, marriage contracts of any kind are one step closer to being considered and regarded with equality.
But unfortunately, one momentous step for the LGBT movement does not a successful system make. Especially when juxtaposed with the elephant in the room — the government shutdown. Lasting 15 days, the nonessential governmental entities were shutdown as Congress failed to agree on the appropriation of funds for the 2014 fiscal year. Perhaps the most daunting part of this whole ordeal was how effectively our politicians spun the media surrounding the issue, convincing the masses that the shutdown was because of the Affordable Care Act.
It’s impossible to deny that American political culture is in the midst of a monumental political shift in terms of both culture and ideology. It seems that as individuals, everyone seems to know exactly what they believe — we sure argue like we do, anyways. But as a collectivity, we seem hesitant and unable to find our political footing.
It’s difficult to say whether this polarization began within the constituency and was mirrored in Congress, or vice versa. But either way, it seems to be symptomatic of crises to come.
It’s impossible for everyone to agree all of that time — and let’s be honest, that would just be boring. But in large part, the actions of our political leaders throughout the last year more closely resembled a junior high hair-pulling match over a Jimmy the quarterback, than that of the decision-making process controlled by our political sophisticates.
Although there were many small triumphs in some niches of the political world, the bird’s eye view reveals polarization and stagnation — neither of which bode well.
Geneva Mueller is a junior and a double major of political science and international studies