The extended struggle to raise the debt ceiling makes clear that partisan divsion has all but paralyzed policy-making in Washington. Moreover, a default on US debt would be dangerous, and thus it is easy to bemoan our moment of partisan dissensus--and, concomitantly, easy to romanticize bipartisan consensus.
Before doing so, however, we should recall that moments of bipartisan consensus in U.S. history have themselves often been dangerous, particularly for ordinary people: the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, for instance, passed by a 416-0 vote in the House and with only two dissenting votes in the Senate.
That we should not romanticize bipartisan consensus is further suggested by considering what "forces" or "factors" may possibly -- at the very last minute -- be creating a minimal "consensus" for raising the debt ceiling. Sunday's NY Times tells us that Congressional leaders of both parties have been working all weekend to find a way to raise the debt ceiling because of their common concern "to reassure markets." Here what needs to be emphaszied is that a consensus forged out of a concern for financial markets is anything but a democratic consensus.
Furthermore, while the Republicans in Congress deserve every bit of scorn cast upon them for their delusional policy positions, the more fundamental problem is that the Democratic Party (as the ostensibly more progressive political party) continues to be unable to gain sufficiently broad support and broad legitimacy to become the country's governing party.
Here what is key is that the Democratic Party -- and the educated professional-managerial class that prevails in the leadership offered by the party -- is deeply mistrusted by the workers and small business owners whose fortunes have declined since the mid-1960s. That these persons are overwhelmingly white has everything to do with the fact that it was white workers and white business owners who were so advantaged after WWII, and thus positioned to experience "decline," in a way that non-whites (of any class) were not. That these persons struggle to be clear-sighted about why their fortunes have declined has everything to do with the fact that they had been told their former affluence was due, simply, to their hard work and extraordinary character -- without any consideration given to global and domestic social structures. And yet, these two points notwithstanding, that these persons mistrust professional-managerial elites -- and thus the Democratic Party -- has everything to do with the fact that these elites, and their Party, have not done anything to help these downawardly mobile and increasingly vulnerable persons.
And why has the Democratic Party not done anything for these persons? Simply put, because the policies that would genuinely help them -- single-payer healthcare, progressive taxation, and, supported by that taxation, heavy investmet in public goods -- are policies that would disturb "markets."
The Democratic Party continues to be unable to gain broad suppport and broad legitimacy because, in short, it is unwilling to be robustly democratic. And it is that refusal of democraticness by our supposedly progressive political party (starting with President Obama), rather than bipartisan dissensus, that we should bemoan about this moment of paralysis in Washington.