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Are politicians addicted to spectacle?

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The agreement on the shutdown and the debt ceiling is no guarantee that lawmakers and the White House will behave. They seem addicted to spectacle and the kind of hand-wringing political theater that garners press coverage, while masking inactivity or indecision.

Once, such incivility and posturing was more of a bad habit or occasional embellishment, not the norm. Consider that in 1999, a contentious U.S. House actually opted to go on a series of bipartisan retreats to remedy their discord. The press deemed these events “civility retreats,” dutifully chronicling the attempts to iron out differences and seek productive protocols.

“At the weekend-long civility retreats in Hershey, Pa., over 200 members of the House of Representatives developed a comprehensive, detailed portrait of what wasn’t working on Capitol Hill and what needed to be done to fix it,” Mark Gerzon - the mediation consultant who actually designed those retreats - tells The Watercooler.

Fragile victories were short-lived, though.

“However, once they returned to Washington, party leaders made sure that nothing changed. They did not want anything to stop them from playing the partisan game the old way,” Mr. Gerzon says.

“Up to a point, the blame game can be a winning strategy at election time. The problem is that election time now never ends. It used to be that politicians played by slash-and-burn election rules for a few months before November every other year. Now they play by the those rules all the time. There is almost no governing anymore.It is all electioneering,” he says.

“So the incivility, dishonesty, and character attacks that once were a bad habit during campaign season have become a way of life,” Mr. Gerzon says.

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