The country has sorted itself ideologically into the two political parties, and those partisan attachments have hardened in recent years. It will take an extraordinary event and act of leadership to break this partisan divide. I thought 9/11 might provide such an opportunity, but it was not seized.
Redistricting is a deeply political process, with incumbents actively seeking to minimize the risk to themselves (via bipartisan gerrymanders) or to gain additional seats for their party (via partisan gerrymanders).
Party and ideology routinely trump institutional interests and responsibilities. Regular order - the set of rules, norms and traditions designed to ensure a fair and transparent process - was the first casualty. The results: No serious deliberation. No meaningful oversight of the executive. A culture of corruption.
In addition to the decline in competition, American politics today is characterized by a growing ideological polarization between the two major political parties.
The public's evaluation of the job George W. Bush is doing as president changed dramatically as a result of the horrific attacks of September 11 and his response in leading the country on a campaign against terrorism.
First, his job approval ratings have been trending down for many months, a trend that has accelerated in recent weeks as the war on terrorism has been supplanted in the public's mind by corporate scandals, stock market declines, and a growing sense of economic insecurity.
All of this suggests that while citizens became more comfortable with President Bush after September 11 and thought him to have the requisite leadership skills, they continue to harbor doubts about his priorities, loyalties, interests, and policies.
I don't believe in a golden mean; I don't believe you find policy wisdom between two polar points. I don't dismiss that possibility, but I look at the platform that's so ideologically based, that's so dismissive of facts, of evidence, of science, and it's frankly hard to take seriously.
In the House, Republican prospects have been buoyed by several successful rounds of redistricting, which have sharply reduced the number of competitive seats and given the Republicans a national advantage of at least a dozen seats.
Responsibility for overseeing the implementation of election law typically resides with partisan officials, many with public stakes in the election outcome.
Further-more, partisan attachments powerfully shape political perceptions, beliefs and values, and incumbents enjoy advantages well beyond the way in which their districts are configured.
Second, the President's popularity has not translated into increased support for the Republican party or for the policies and approaches on domestic policy championed by the President.
Incumbency adds a layer of advantage on top of this party dominance. But rather than foster an environment in which members of Congress feel free to buck popular sentiment and wrestle seriously with the problems confronting the country, it reinforces the ideological divide between the parties.
The increase in straight-ticket party voting in recent years means that competitive congressional races can tip one way or the other depending on the showing of the candidates at the top of the ticket.
While Republican voters have remained universally supportive of their President, Democrats and Independents are returning to a more naturally critical stance.