Perhaps the most salient trademark of the American political system is its bipartisan model of checks and balances. This model is one whereby the two most prominent parties (i.e., Democratic and Republican parties) are often depicted as being against each other on their ideologies and approaches to policy. Bipartisanship, however, operates within the broader scheme of the United States as a federal nation. This is an important component in the matrix of political power wielded by states and coordinated by the central government. Irene S. Rubin (1990) explores the intricacies of the American political system and its effects on budgeting policies. The author proposes that fiscal policies are an intricate reflection of political strategies. For her, they are an inherent component of political parties’ strategies to appeal to the public, secure political power and demonstrate their effective leadership. Levine (1978) also stresses the convoluted interconnectedness of the financial and policy aspects of government. This connection is one whose manifestations across various governmental entities demonstrate a perpetual tension within and between political structures and agents.
Levine’s (1978) central premise is that the United States’ political system is predicated on a philosophy of eternal growth. This ideology is one that lauds economic growth and deems it the rule to which economic decline is an exception. Hence, growth is a goal that government officials should aspire to upholding, while decline is a perverse anomaly that should be avoided. This philosophy is one that plagues all forms of government, from local agencies to the more salient branches of official administration. It constrains political activity such that officials are limited in their capacity to develop effective policies by a rigid overarching framework that is designed to foster economic growth and leaves little room for creativity and novel approaches to tackling public issues.
The hallowed United States economic growth model underlying political strategies thus constricts innovation in policy, but also fuels discord. Rubin (1990) and Levine (1978) both recognize the limited nature of economic resources. This reality pitted against the ideal of unlimited growth is one that exacerbates competition among actors with divergent goals and political ideas. Political agents have to confront resource scarcity while striving toward growth, an emblem of political effectiveness. In fact, Levine (1978) maintains that the ideal of financial prosperity has become synonymous with a policy’s effectiveness and, thus, desirability. A policy’s capacity to generate economic growth in turn becomes symbolic of the effectiveness of the political party that proposed and advocated it. Yet, growth is a fallacious index of a governmental structure’s impact. Political agents who have internalized and received tutelage from the principles of the growth ideal become primarily motivated by it, stifling their capacity to serve the public.
The widely visible dichotomy plaguing the American political system affects policy implementation in a top-down manner. In conjunction with the pervasive and uncontested ideal of infinite growth, the bipartisan system creates a milieu wherein agents are motivated by economic loss prevention as a symbol of their party’s effectiveness. Bipartisanship and the derived infrastructure which constitutes the American political environment is reflected by a perpetual competition to multiply limited resources.
Levine, C. H. (1978). Organizational Decline and Cutback Management. Public Administration Review, 38(4), 316-325.
Rubin, R.S (1990). The Politics of Public Budgeting: Getting and Spending, Borrowing and balancing. Catham, NJ: Catham House Publishers.