Are We Responsible For Government Gridlock?

A Levan Coffeehouse Conversation on Practical Ethics

Is it ethical to vote solely on the basis of our personal interests and our particular ethical or religious values—even as it threatens gridlock in a pluralistic society like ours? Or does morality require us to vote on the basis of our society’s common interest in functioning government in common matters, recognizing that others in our free society will disagree with our personal and particular values, and that ours may lose out?

A majority of Americans today report dissatisfaction, even disgust, with Congress, largely because of its perceived inability to pass what all acknowledge to be needed legislation. Yet we are part of the electorate responsible for the composition of our dysfunctional Congress. If we elect representatives on their promise that they will not compromise on the issues we care about, and our opponents do as well, who is responsible for the ensuing paralysis of our government?

Is it ethical to vote solely on the basis of our personal interests and our particular ethical or religious values—even as it threatens gridlock in a pluralistic society like ours? Or does morality require us to vote on the basis of our society’s common interest in functioning government in common matters, recognizing that others in our free society will disagree with our personal and particular values, and that ours may lose out?

  • Troy Gunderson
  • USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies
  • University of Southern California
  • University Park Campus
  • AHF 108
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0371