As recent events make all too clear, the democratic process of the United States is in bad shape. Even apart from the travails of Obamacare and the high-stakes combat in Washington over the government shutdown, we are confronted by legislative inaction on a range of pressing policy issues, a runaway campaign-finance system, new assaults on voting rights, worsening economic inequality, and growing cynicism and withdrawal among citizens taking all this in.
The Hewlett Foundation has a particular interest in these issues given that we make grants to solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. We cannot always count on persuading the government to adopt policies we favor, nor is our ability to do so the measure of whether our political system is working, but our grantmaking presumes a minimally rational and functioning democratic process. Unless the mounting problems of governance are removed or reduced in importance, we risk being stymied on other aspects of our work.
In the spirit of transparency, and in the hope of soliciting some constructive feedback, let me outline how we are planning to respond to these challenges.
To focus our efforts, we are going to zero in on the problem of political polarization and its three most notable markers: increasing ideological coherence within and divergence between the Republican and Democratic parties, hyper-partisanship, and gridlock.