Here’s what Washington really does

The Washington of conventional wisdom and the real Washington are two entirely different places. The Washington of conventional wisdom is overrun by well-paid insiders — lobbyists, lawyers, publicists — who systematically manipulate government policies to benefit corporations and the rich, defying the “will of the people.” The real Washington has government paid for by the rich and well-to-do. Benefits go mainly to the poor and middle class, while politicians of both parties live in fear that they might offend the “will of the people” — voters…

The larger lesson is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, American politics have not become insensitive to the “the people.” In many ways, just the opposite is true. Politicians are too responsive to popular will. The real Washington is in the business of pleasing as many people as possible for as long as possible. There are now vast constituencies dependent on the largesse of the federal government. This is the main cause of huge “structural” budget deficits, meaning that they aren’t simply a hangover from the Great Recession.

There are many sophisticated theories today about why politics have become so polarized and immobilized. Ideologues have captured both parties, it’s said; primary challenges by right- and left-wing zealots doom centrists; cable television and the Internet favor simplistic, highly partisan rhetoric and argument. Political divisions are accentuated; consensus becomes harder. There’s something to these theories, but they also subtly misrepresent and excuse our present paralysis.