Last spring, James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic who had just returned from three years living in China, was asked to assess how America is doing relative to its rivals in Asia and the world.
He reported that we are still in great shape in almost every sphere, from our economic position to our education. But, he wrote, we are falling rapidly behind because of one feature of our national life: our inability to govern ourselves.
The extreme partisanship of the current political scene, coupled with Senate rules that make it easy for a minority to stop almost any legislative agenda — these and other conditions have made it impossible for our government to solve the most important issues facing us, from global warming to cutting the deficit. Many other observers have made the same point.
In this context, the statement by Sen. Mitch McConnell that his primary goal as minority leader in the U.S. Senate is to ensure Barack Obama will be defeated in the next election takes on a particularly sinister meaning.
Never miss a local story.
Never mind that the "will of the American people" constantly on the lips of McConnell and his friends is in large part the result of an unprecedented flood of money from unidentified contributors.
Herald-Leader contributing columnist Jaci Carfagno recently pointed out on these pages that 69 percent of Sen.-elect Rand Paul's campaign budget came from out-of-state (and largely unidentified) contributors, compared to 27 percent for challenger Jack Conway.
Never mind that the "Obamacare" health care reform, which McConnell labeled as socialist, was remarkably similar to a Republican plan for health care reform offered by none other than congressional Republicans (led by McConnell in the Senate) under President George W. Bush.
What really gets me is that McConnell has always had as his chief goal the defeat of Democrats at every level.
After Obama's dramatic victories in 2008, did McConnell heed "the will of the American people"? Not at all. He led the "Party of NO" into disciplined opposition to virtually everything Obama tried to do.
Obama, on the other hand, having been the victor in 2008, did his best to work with congressional Republicans on health care reform and other matters, to the dismay of many in his Democratic base.
Which party and which leaders are actually trying to solve America's problems? And which are partisan extremists bent only on forwarding their own narrow political agenda?