News / USA

Current US Political Crisis Decades in the Making

President Barack Obama gestures while speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Oct. 1, 2013, about the government shutdown.
President Barack Obama gestures while speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Oct. 1, 2013, about the government shutdown.
The ongoing partial shutdown of the U.S. government is the culmination of years of political polarization in the United States with roots that go back at least two decades.

At the heart of the dispute in Washington is a clash between the two major political parties over the role of the central government in American life.

Political polarization began to ramp up significantly in the early to mid-1990s following the election of Democrat Bill Clinton as president. Republicans won control of both houses of Congress in 1994 for the first time in 40 years.  Differences over spending and the role of government sparked two government shutdowns.

The bitterly contested presidential election of 2000 in which George W. Bush was elected president also exacerbated the partisan political climate.

University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato traces the deepening of the partisan political battles to President Bush’s second term.

“There is no question that the polarization increased first with the Bush presidency, because of the Iraq war and his handling of Hurricane Katrina," he said. "Then it accelerated once President Obama was elected.”

The partisan divide grew wider when Obama pushed his signature health care reform law through Congress in 2010 without a single Republican vote.  That in turn helped to fuel the rise of conservative Tea Party groups around the country, an important conservative voting bloc within the Republican Party.

House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., left, looks on as Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Oct. 1, 2013.House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., left, looks on as Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Oct. 1, 2013.
x
House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., left, looks on as Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Oct. 1, 2013.
House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., left, looks on as Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Oct. 1, 2013.
The health care law, also known as Obamacare, is at the heart of the current shutdown dispute between the White House and Congress. Republicans have made several attempts to either defund the law or delay its implementation.  

Obama believes the law is the signature achievement of his presidency, and with the support of congressional Democrats is resisting any attempt to block or delay it. 

Behind the fight over Obamacare is a sharply divergent view over the role of government, says Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown.

“Republicans like smaller government and lower government spending and therefore are more opposed to Obamacare," Brown said. "Democrats tend to be more supportive in general of government solutions to problems and they see Obamacare as the right thing to do to help on the health care issue.”

Opposition to the health care law is led by a core group of conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives, many of whom now count on strong support from Tea Party activists to get elected.

Sabato says many of them are willing, at least for now, to accept the political blame for forcing the government to shut down.

“They will pay a bigger price but they seem willing to pay it in part because most of their members are in completely safe [congressional] districts," he said. "The only thing they have to worry about is a challenge from the right in the Republican primary. So they do not want to let anybody get to their right.”

Some of the Republican opposition is also driven by a deep-seeded animosity toward Obama, says analyst Charlie Cook.

“There are a lot of Republicans where if President Obama said ‘up’, they would say ‘down.’  I mean, they will do the opposite just sort of no matter what," Cook said.

For the moment, Sabato sees no quick resolution of the shutdown, which only adds to the political uncertainty given that Congress will soon have to raise the borrowing limit or risk the U.S. defaulting on its loan payments.

“They are so deeply polarized by party and by institution that it is difficult to see, if people stick to the principles they have articulated, how this is going to be resolved," he said, adding that "...it could go on and on.  And of course it will do tremendous damage, not just to our economy but to our image around the world.”

The last government shutdown began in December of 1995 and lasted three weeks.  Analysts say Republicans paid a political price for the shutdown and that the fallout probably helped President Bill Clinton win a second term in 1996.

You May Like

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs