The cliché that Washington is deadlocked and dysfunctional is only partially true. Congress and Obama get done those things favored by lobbies with deep pockets that have their hooks into both the GOP and a fair number of Democrats. Thus, despite all the hullabaloo about deficits, the government is about to provide $8.33 billion in loan guarantees to the nuclear industry, which adds to government liabilities, and hence increases the deficit.
Congress -- which so far has done extremely little to provide for new financial regulation -- has found the time to dilute accounting rules that govern the banks, "improving" their balance sheets, which sows the seeds for the next financial crisis -- or the next round of the current one. And Congress seems ready to move to allow offshore oil drilling after Obama's signal to this effect during his State of the Union.
This political set up also predicts where the new commission on deficit reduction is headed: major cuts in the outlays and benefits for the masses, and few tax increases for the rich. You heard it here first.
Liberals like to dream about a pendulum, in which the United States swings from conservative eras to liberals ones and back. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was the main scholar who helped formulate this vision. Actually the United States since the 1970s is going through shorter and shorter -- and weaker! -- liberal intervals, and longer and stronger conservative periods. The liberals can complain all they want, but until they get together and form a united front, a shared agenda, and a social movement to back it up, they should be ready for another bout of market forces intervening in the government -- while complaining about government interference in the market.
Amitai Etzioni is a professor of international relations at The George Washington University and the author of Security First (Yale 2007). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.gwu.edu/~ccps/securityfirst.html