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Robinson: Obstruction as the new normal

  • (NICK ANDERSON / Houston Chronicle)

The bad news is that approval ratings for both the president and Congress are sinking, with voters increasingly frustrated at the bitter, partisan impasse in Washington. The worse news is that in terms of admiration for our national leaders, these may come to be seen as the good old days.

I’m an optimist by nature, a glass-half-full kind of guy. But try as I might, I can’t convince myself that Republicans in Congress are likely to respond any better to President Barack Obama’s latest proposals on the economy than to the previous umpteen. I’m also pretty gloomy at the moment about the prospects for meaningful immigration reform — unless House Speaker John Boehner decides that passing a bill is more important than keeping his job.

“We should not be judged on how many new laws we create,” Boehner said last weekend. “We ought to be judged on how many laws that we repeal.” So much for faint hope.

My fear is that stasis has become a structural feature of our politics. Nothing lasts forever, but this depressing state of affairs could be with us for quite a while — and could get worse.

The public is not amused. Three out of four Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, while a Wall Street Journal survey measured disapproval of Congress at a stunning 83 percent. Obama’s approval rating has slid to 49 percent, the Post-ABC poll found — better than the president’s political opponents are faring but hardly anything to cheer about.

Here’s the basic problem: The Democratic Party seems likely to grow ever stronger nationally while the GOP remains firmly entrenched locally. This means the stubborn, maddening, unproductive standoff between a Democratic president and a Republican majority in the House may be the new normal.

Demographic trends clearly favor the Democrats in presidential elections. Hispanics and Asian-Americans, the nation’s biggest and fastest-growing minorities respectively, both voted for Obama over Mitt Romney by more than 70 percent. This is not just a function of the GOP’s hostility to immigration reform, although that certainly doesn’t help. Republicans are also out of step with these voters on other issues such as health care. And all too often they transmit a breathtaking level of hostility.

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