Q&A: How Washington Can Overcome Gridlock

Jan 9, 2014
Eric Wilkens
Woodrow Wilson School

Big thinkers, big changes and big political pressure are required to overcome the impasse in Washington, according to Julian Zelizer, the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs at the Wilson School. Zelizer discusses how to make government work better and offers historical perspectives in a TEDxEast video released Jan. 8, 2014. 

We sat down with Zelizer to learn more about American political history and how Washington can overcome gridlock.
What motivated you to give this TEDx talk? 
The TEDx talks are a wonderful format since they allow thinkers to present their knowledge in a concise and compact fashion, pushing the speakers to make a big argument about the nation. 
What can American political history teach us about moving past the gridlock in Washington?
That change doesn't come from new leaders or from frustration. It only comes when grass roots movements create massive pressure for change and politicians turn their attention toward institutional reform (campaign finance, gerrymandering, etc).
What are the short-term policy implications?
We need to put reform on the national agenda or the kind of politics we have in Washington won't change regardless of who is in power. Also, without grass roots and electoral pressure, reform won't happen since politicians are invested in the status quo.