Broken

BROKEN…. If I’d been one of the respondents in this poll, I almost certainly would have sided with the overwhelming majority. But the results just don’t tell us as much as they should.

Americans overwhelmingly think that the government in this country is broken, according to a new national poll. But the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey, released Sunday morning, also indicates that the public overwhelmingly holds out hope that what’s broken can be fixed.

Eighty-six percent of people questioned in the poll say that our system of government is broken, with 14 percent saying no. Of that 86 percent, 81 percent say that the government can be fixed, with 5 percent saying it’s beyond repair.

CNN fielded a similar poll more than three years ago. At the time, 71% said the U.S. system is broken but can be fixed, 10 points lower than the poll conducted last week.

What the poll doesn’t tell us is what matters — why people have come to this conclusion and what they’d like to see done about it.

I can appreciate the widespread frustration. Paul Volcker, a top economic adviser to President Obama, said last week that he’s “very disturbed” by the federal law-making process, which he described as “dysfunctional.” Vice President Biden said this week, “Washington, right now, is broken.”

All of this is entirely reasonable. What’s become of the process is a national scandal, which directly undermines our strength as a country.

But if those who feel that the government is broken don’t know and/or understand why, the palpable aggravation is of no value. The key is for Americans — who neither know nor care about things like “filibusters,” “cloture votes,” and “holds” — to appreciate the role congressional Republicans have played in shutting down the American system of government. It’s a disgrace that regular folks seem wholly unaware of.

It’s also a reminder to policymakers that, while some of the frustration may be ideological, much of it is also the result of the public growing impatient, waiting for progress that isn’t happening. Something Obama said yesterday, in the context of moving forward on health care reform, stood out for me:

“What’s being tested here is not just our ability to solve this one problem, but our ability to solve any problem. Right now, Americans are understandably despairing about whether partisanship and the undue influence of special interests in Washington will make it impossible for us to deal with the big challenges that face our country.”

When folks perceive their government as “broken,” I suspect it’s because of what the president identified — a perception that policymakers simply can’t solve obvious problems in need of solutions.

It speaks to the need for Senate Democrats to do whatever it takes — reconciliation, nuclear option, anything — to get the legislative process moving again.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.