As America moves into another week of government “shutdown”, the pathologies of Washington, D.C.’s ruling class are laid bare. The finger pointing and blame-gaming have reached epidemic proportions. The White House won’t even sit down and talk.House Republicans appear as divided internally as they are with the Democrats on the other side of the congressional aisle.

Many Americans have tuned out; they see this as yet another of the political tugs-of-war that have become so commonplace they think it’s simply the way Washington does business. Others have said, “a pox on both your houses,” to feuding Democrats and Republicans, giving them approval ratings in single digits.

But the struggle to resolve the partial shutdown and break the gridlock continues in as deep a partisan divide as many longtime observers can recall.

House Republicans believe they are standing on principle, fighting a two-front war against an increasingly unpopular and cumbersome Obamacare and continued runaway federal spending. 

But many within the GOP congressional ranks, although they agree with the objectives, are increasingly unsettled by the tactics. Allowing the media to blame them for a “government shutdown” doesn’t make political sense to these folks.

The Democrats originally thought they’d have the high moral ground by claiming that belligerent Republicans had shut down the government. But that position has already been eroded by the Senate Democrats refusal to go to conference and discuss the differences that exist. Dramatically exacerbating their troubles is the fact that their refusal to negotiate, both on the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling, is increasingly working against them. “We won’t talk” is impossible to defend. The American people expect solutions and they understand that conversations and negotiations lead to solutions. Ultimately, the Democrats will be forced to negotiate.

One of the reasons the Democrats have stuck with their “we won’t talk” stance for as long as they have is that they believe they have to “break the fever” of the seemingly endless brinkmanship and last minute crisis over spending, Obamacare funding and the debt ceiling. Their position is rooted in the belief that constant crisis has given conservative House Republicans disproportionate power whereby they “win” by forcing stalemates what they couldn’t get with a Democrat Senate and White House.

This polarization has become a hallmark of recent congresses and stifles problem solving in Washington. It mirrors an increasingly sharp divide in the voting patterns of members on both sides. Americans for Democratic Action, a leading liberal group, and the American Conservative Union, the most prestigious conservative group in the country, both track congressional voting patterns with scorecards.

Their results are strikingly similar. They both show a growing divide. Both scorecards show Democrats becoming increasingly liberal, while Republicans are trending more conservative. There are lots of explanations for this trend, but one is found in the reconfiguration of congressional districts every decade. When state legislatures across the country re-draw congressional district lines, there’s generally one thing on which both sides agree: protect incumbents. As a result, districts are configured to give advantage to the party holding the seat.

Democrat-held seats become more Democratic by registration and voting trend, while Republican seats become safer for Republicans. Consequently, Roll Call, a leading national political publication, currently lists less than 50 seats they consider to be “competitive.”

That’s down from more than 100 just a couple of years ago prior to reapportionment. The political effect of this pattern is felt more heavily in states like Pennsylvania where primary elections are “closed” meaning only those registered in a party can vote. Increasingly, members of Congress have more to worry about in a primary election than they do in a general. Primary opponents generally come from the outer wings — more conservative Republicans and more liberal Democrats.

To stave off such potential challenges incumbents often tack right or left not towards the center where general elections are decided. This phenomenon has resulted in increasingly divisive partisan battles and votes in Washington. It has also meant that although 90 percent of the people think Congress is doing a lousy job, 90 percent of incumbents get re-elected.