In America today there's a growing sense that the political system is broken and that its ineffectiveness is a major threat to U.S. competitiveness. Why do so many think the political system is not working? Research shows that in Congress, Republicans and Democrats are more polarized than ever. They seem pulled apart by two starkly different conceptions of government: one viewing the government as inefficient, invasive, and easily corrupted, and another seeing it as a vehicle for solving people's problems. Yet the ideological divide may not be the true source of the breakdown. A look at U.S. history shows it's not new. Moreover, sharp ideological battles have often proved highly productive in policy terms, delivering the best ideas from both sides. In the 1840s, for instance, state politicians who were deeply skeptical of government pushed hard for balanced budget amendments while politicians at the other end of the spectrum demanded free public schools for all. In the end many states adopted both policies--a combination that proved enormously powerful. The problem today is that too many have come to view politics as war, where victory is paramount and "compromise" is a dirty word. This take-no-prisoners approach, which came into sharp relief during the debt-ceiling debate, threatens to cripple the best-of-both dynamic. Revitalizing America's culture of democracy--where the health of the nation comes first, above economic interest, party, and ideology--is essential. Business leaders must play a large role in this effort, because the implications for the economy are so great.
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