According to the NPR piece (worth its 11 minutes), the US is in a cycle of political overreach and backlash. This is how it works:
- The electorate becomes distinctly unhappy with the way the government is working.
- They vote one party (the one held less to blame) into power in a wave election.
- The winning party mistakes its election for a mandate. Or maybe it willfully misreads the election as a mandate.
- The newly powerful party listens to its "intense policy demanders" (we can call them screamers) and enacts or tries to enact too extreme a program.
- The electorate becomes distinctly unhappy with that party, and the cycle repeats, but with the former "in" party now out.
One final point in the report. The swings in election results are speeding up. There was an electoral change favoring Republicans in 1994. The Republicans became stronger through 5 more elections until the pendulum started swinging back in 2006 towards the Democrats. In 2010, just 2 elections later, the pendulum swung again back towards the Republicans. We don't know yet whether the 2012 election will bring greater strength to the Republicans, or another shift in the pendulum.
The pendulum is changing directions so frequently because of obstruction. To remove obstruction, you need undivided government, but that also opens the door to the screamers in the party in power. Until one party or the other figures out how to restrain its screamers, we are trapped in this Catch -22.
If one of the parties could stake out the middle ground, it could hold onto power for quite a while, unless boredom is part of the reason for the electoral turnovers (and that's a possibility).