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Pundits and political figures across the political spectrum now regularly refer to the United States government–and to some of its state governments as well–as “dysfunctional” or even “pathological,” with serious questions raised as to whether the United States in the 21st century can even be described as “governable.”  No doubt the answer depends on what one expects from government.  If the only test is, for example, continuing to pay debts owed by the United States or not willfully falling off “fiscal cliffs,” then perhaps the answer is yes, though one commentator has compared this standard as the equivalent of a parent proudly proclaiming of a child that “he has remained out of prison.”  Should “governability” be defined as the ability to confront a host of challenges facing us in the contemporary world, the answer might be less optimistic.

The weekend after the inauguration of President Barack Obama for his final term in office is a propitious time for confronting basic questions about the health of the American political system.  The symposium brings together a remarkable array of scholars across many disciplines, persons with a variety of high-level political experience, and eminent journalists to discuss these and other questions of vital relevance to every American (or person affected by decisions made by American governments).