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The Government's Dysfunctional Marriage

Why do Republicans and Democrats get along so poorly in Congress?

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The political climate is tough. The two political parties are starting to gear up for the 2012 election. The economy is no help, with a Dow Jones that has had trouble climbing its way back up since July of this summer, and a debt crisis that has affected not just us, but the entire globe. But it is crucial to remember that politics are made up of people, and these people's underlying psychology is analogous to those of divorcing parents. We reprint an article we wrote for Politico here hoping to remind everyone that what we need most is not competition between parties, but collaboration, and strong leaders who are willing to listen, compromise and get something truly constructive done. It's not too late.

With the clock ticking, Democrats and Republican are wrestling over what combination of tax increases, spending cuts and entitlement restructuring could help Americans shake off their economic troubles.

It is a classic power struggle. Like opposing spouses in a bitter divorce, both parties claim the exclusive ability of knowing the “right thing to do.” After all, they “care” more about those in their charge. Each one also wants to get the better of the other, even if it means maligning or making ugly accusations – and, in the end, getting nowhere.

Neither parenting nor governing is a simple science. Each problem is unique and having a loyal opposition keeps you honest, helps you to avoid your own blind spots and deal with your mistakes. (It is human nature to rationalize all mistakes away.)

There’s nothing new here. The first recorded couple in Western history was Adam and Eve. She was introduced to Adam as an ezer kenegdo, which in the original Hebrew means a “help mate against him.” That is how far back power struggles go.

Power struggles are deeply rooted at the heart of many conflicts, both personal and political.

It is part of being human. But in a healthy relationship, whether a good marriage, a reasonable divorce or a functioning Congress, the conflict usually transforms into a collaborative effort rather than a combative one.

After years of mistrust and estrangement in our two-party system, this stalemate mimics the behavior of two self-consumed and combative parents. The Democrats point to the Bush era tax cuts on higher income-earners and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as the reason for much of the deficit. Republicans fire back, insisting the Democrats’ “untouchable” programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are to blame.

Though power struggles are inevitable, they don’t have to be destructive. Granted, it may be easier to be a single parent or to govern as a single party — but it is almost always better to have two points of view.

Our leaders’ responsibility is to work constructively to provide a good life and future for us, their constituents. Yet when longstanding resentments – and the desire to publicly punish each other – consume our governing parties, it can look like partners in a crumbling marriage who have lost track of what’s really important. This power struggle dynamic can take on a life of its own.

Republicans are portrayed as elitists, lacking compassion for the poor. Democrats are portrayed as overspending socialists, who pander to selfish labor unions.

Like the children caught between two parents in this unpleasant divorce, the American public is left to wonder and to fear the results of this dysfunctional marriage. They see the posturing and feel anxious, but can do little.