There is now an all-out kulturkampf over the soul and character of U.S. society, and it is manifested in the ongoing government shutdown. As a result, part of the federal government has ground to a halt. That is why it is so easy to understand the yearning for a complete overhaul of the mechanisms and institutions that have shaped Uncle Sam's presidential democracy.
In the U.S., political rivals have traditionally resolved their differences through a pragmatic give and take, and there have always been areas in which both sides could work together despite the gulf between them. But this practical approach has given way to ideological intransigence on the part of tea party purists (and their sympathizers in the House of Representatives) who believe they are the keepers of the fort. If the U.S. political system is to restore its openness and the shared willingness to incorporate new ideas, and if it were to adopt new modi operandi in a way that is not perceived as a apostasy by one side or the other, one has to take a closer look.
This current ailment has nothing to do with changing the official rules of the game.
After all, having Congress and the president disagree is one of the welcome manifestations of the system of checks and balances. Back in the days when Capitol Hill and the White House would lock horns on something, the clash was never about partisan world views, values or otherwise purely doctrinal issues. Rather, it was about tangible issues pertaining to a specific constituency (the so-called "pork-barrel spending"). Ultimately a deal and a compromise would emerge and both branches of government could live with the result. This also ensured there was no lopsided distribution of government resources. That is why, with the exception of the 1995-1996 three-week government shutdown, whenever Congress tried to block a budget bill, the spat was short-lived and the damage to the U.S. economy and its political stability was limited.
In that sense, the traditional friction between the branches of government could be seen as something productive that ensured the president would not become an emperor with absolute powers. And indeed, when President Richard Nixon tried, during the Watergate affair, to undo the delicate equilibrium between the branches of government by citing "executive privilege," he was properly rebuffed by Congress (which received the full backing of the Supreme Court) and later had to resign in disgrace to avoid a certain impeachment and removal from office. The U.S. Constitution (and its various amendments) created a brilliant compilation of checks and other oversight mechanisms that have, on the whole, successfully governed relations between the legislative, judicial and executive branches. This has usually ensured stability, continuity and effectiveness, because of the pluralist, dynamic and open political culture that serves as a foundation.
We can only hope that the current glitch will be temporary and that once the dust settles, the U.S. will once against embrace pluralism and go back to its solution-oriented and consensus-building approach. This change could be precipitated by the midterm elections in November 2014. Voters might use the ballot to register their displeasure with the apocalyptic fervor coming out the House as it runs towards the fiscal cliff. Whatever happens, the foundations of the U.S. democracy will remain intact.