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An antidote for anxious times

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By Lee Hamilton

Over the last few months, the press has been filled with worried articles about the state of the union. “Pundits are beginning to wonder if the system is broken in some fundamental way,” wrote Evan Thomas in Newsweek. “Do partisan polarization, special-interest money, snarling news outlets and public disaffection ensure gridlock into the indefinite future?” asked John Harwood in The New York Times.

These writers and many others are reflecting a building sense within Washington that something is amiss with our system of governance. Faced with a desperate jobs crisis, soaring deficits at both the federal and state levels, a health-care system widely seen as broken, and pressing international issues, the nation’s political leaders are straining to coalesce around solutions. Public attention on this front was galvanized by the much-noticed announcement by Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana that he would not seek re-election to a Congress he’d come to view as gridlocked.

The public itself is no more charitable: In the latest Associated Press poll, just 22 percent of Americans approved of the job Congress is doing.


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