It is, quite simply, that the current highly partisan, polarized duopoly is responsible for the dysfunction that afflicts this nation at a critical time.
On Sunday, Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post, began an excellent piece with a quote from President Obama:
"Congress doesn't work the way it should. Issues are left untended. Folks are more interested in scoring political points than getting things done. And as mightily as I have struggled against that...it still is broken."
Hiatt himself then added, "Washington being Washington, people here will disagree whether Obama has struggled against dysfunction or contributed to it."
The fact is that Washington isn't working. Partisanship reigns. That's what a record proportion of Americans believes. Voters are alienated. And they should be.
Hiatt's piece concerns one solution: the "national strategic agenda" of four goals that a group called No Labels, led by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, is espousing. Those goals involve balancing the budget, fixing Social Security and Medicare, creating jobs, and making the U.S. energy-secure. You can read about the goals in more detail here.
All very worthy. But one big reason the U.S. political system is not tackling these goals is that independent leaders are excluded from becoming president.
Huntsman and Lieberman are also among the 49 distinguished signers of a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates that asks the CPD to change its rules, which currently prevent an independent from joining the Democrat and Republican nominees on stage for the final 2016 presidential debates in the fall.
Change those rules and you change the political system in a way that issues like Social Security will be responsibly addressed. Why? Simply because giving an independent a chance to be in the debates - and thus a chance to be elected president - will attract the kind of candidates and views that Americans long for, and have been missing.
Even if an independent does not win the presidency, a serious independent candidacy will influence the policy of whoever does gain the Oval Office - just as Ross Perot, the last independent to gain access to the debate stage - influenced the fiscal policies of the ultimate winner, Bill Clinton, and helped produce a balanced budget.
If Fred Hiatt and No Labels want a balanced budget, the best way to get it is by having an independent on the debate stage.
And that is precisely what most Americans want. They are well ahead of the Washington establishment. More Americans today identify themselves as independents than ever before: 42 percent, compared with just 31 percent saying they are Democrats and 25 percent Republicans. And, according to a new report by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, voters want an independent, or third-party, debate participant.
Research for that report by Peter Hart found that, by a 56 percent to 28 percent margin, respondents agreed that the "rules for a third-party candidate inclusion should be relaxed so that it is easier for them to be part of the debate. Even if it is unlikely that they will win the presidency, it would make the major candidates respond to their ideas."
In his piece, Hiatt agrees that "the process is the point." Exactly right. He notes "the factors that are driving partisanship: a fractured media landscape, divisive redistricting, polarizing campaign finance rules, and so on." But those factors aren't going to change any time soon.
But what can change - tomorrow! - are the rules that currently exclude an independent or third-party candidate from the debates, and thus from the presidency. All it takes is a decision by the CPD, a non-profit organization that is supposed to be non-partisan but that has been defending an indefensible set of debate rules.
Hiatt writes that No Labels "dismisses as unlikely the emergence of a viable third-party candidate." I am not sure if that is really the position of No Labels or of Fred Hiatt, but it is dead wrong.
Change the debate rules, and high-quality independent candidates will emerge. There is not the slightest doubt. Right now, independents running for president are just spinning their wheels. Change the rules, and they will get traction.
The most important change would allow an independent to know by April 30 whether he or she can get into the fall debates - just as the Democrat and Republican know. That would make an independent an "official" candidate in the eyes of the media, donors, and other supporters. People would listen to ideas like those of No Labels.
One small change in debate rules would vastly improve the health of American politics. And one small group of unelected board members has the power in its hands.