Washington is in a post-policy moment. Congress passes little of substance. Few bills make it to a vote, and those that do are intended as messages, symbols, or stunts, rather than policy reforms. The president makes speeches gesturing toward policy reforms, but they largely repackage old ideas. The true subtext of those speeches, meanwhile, has less to do with the policies themselves and more to do with the gridlock and obstructionism that the Obama administration sees as blocking legislative advances. The last presidential campaign was not fought over new ideas and initiatives, but over policies past. A vote for Romney was a vote to undo the big-ticket policy measures of Obama’s first term. A vote for Obama was a vote to keep them, and try to make them work.
What really lies underneath the recent policy stagnation, writes Senior Editor Peter Suderman, is not obstructionism, but exhausted party agendas with nowhere left to go. The truth is that both parties have largely achieved their long-term policy goals. And neither has a strong sense of what to do now.