American political life has reached an unenviable crossroads: we want government to be effective, but government has been ineffectual for so long that we can only fear what the shock of activity might bring. A line in G.K. Chesterton’s political treatise What’s Wrong with the World? aptly sums up this state of things: “We all agree that a lazy aristocracy is a bad thing, but we would not want an active aristocracy.”
Americans likewise face the interlaced problems of heartless inaction and imprudent action: we complain about partisan gridlock but forget the terrors wrought by eager consensus, from The Defense of Marriage Act, to the Patriot Act and the ceaseless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If solid bipartisanship can wreak irreparable harm, we might prefer despairing paralysis.