America is ailing and members of Congress are unwilling to compromise on issues that could help get the country back on track. So what does that mean for the oldest democracy of the modern age?
Implementing political processes in Washington is not easy. The ideologies that fill Congress are so different that compromise appears almost impossible. An example is the fight over health reform, President Barack Obama's showcase project. The Democrats might have succeeded in beating a path through the massive resistance from the Republicans, but the upshot is that there is virtually no room left for concessions in other areas, such as education or environment.
Besides the attempt to introduce a universal insurance, the greatest issue that Congress has to deal with is finding a way out of the debt trap. At the end of December 2012, the Democrats and Republicans were able to compromise for long enough to avoid the fiscal cliff. At least for the time being.
Generally, neither side is willing to give an inch. The Democrats favor massive subsidies to get the economy back on track, while the Republicans, who have a majority in Congress, are adamant that spending cuts are the way to proceed. In short, it is the principle of the helping hand versus the idea of a no holds barred market economy.
Republican senator Marco Rubio is skeptical of Obama's ideas, which he says go too far. "Government's role is wisely limited by the Constitution, and it can't play its essential role when it ignores those limits," he said.
From tents to international movement
The two main parties are at loggerheads over the fundamental role of the government, and influential campaign groups are fanning the flames of the conflict. Occupy Wall Street, a movement committed to social justice, and opposed to far-reaching political and economic power, is one of the biggest names in the mix.
It began as a camp in New York's Zuchotti park, and rapidly grew to become an international protest movement. Besides drawing attention to itself through civil disobedience and stunts in New York's banking district, Occupy Wall Street used social media networks to spread the word. But that was yesterday, and the movement is no longer grabbing headlines, which suggests its zenith has passed.
Tea Party on the rise
The far right also has campaign groups. One of the strongest and most radical is the Tea Party movement, which emerged in 2009 in response to the financial crisis. It supports particularly conservative Republicans and sees itself as a citizen's movement.
A large part of its funds, however, come from billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, who have their own economic interests - including lower taxes and and less state regulation - at heart.
Although protesters on both sides have different political ideas, President Obama sees similarities between them. "Both on the left and the right, I think people feel separated from their government," Obama said in an interview at the end of 2011.
Left-wing groups call for a rethink
Unions and environmental associations are also using political issues to try and influence Washington's policies, which they consider to be too economically oriented. Founded more than a century ago, the oldest and largest environmental group in the country is the Sierra Club.
Much of the group's work relates to climate policy. A recent campaign called on the government to stop the construction of the Keystone XL-Pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Besides wanting to protect the environment, Sierra Club activists want a strong, democratic state that is not afraid to do the right thing. Exactly what that is, however, depends on who is doing the talking.