Archive for June 26th, 2009

System vs. People

June 26, 2009

Ezra Klein shares his buddy Matt Yglesias’s low esteem for our system of government.  In response to a post saying Obama has taken the path of least resistance too often, Klein says:

On the other hand, you can say that taking the path of least resistance has left the administration with enough resistance to potentially kill health reform, cap-and-trade, and financial regulation. The least possible resistance, in other words, may still be enough to overwhelm the political system’s insanely poor tolerance for resistance. We have a political system that most observers can confidently predict will be completely unable to avert the fiscal or the climate crisis. That’s like a police force that can’t respond to emergency calls, or a fire department unable to put out fires.

I think that analytically honest political commentators right now should be struggling with a pretty hard choice: Do you try to maximize the possibility of good, if still insufficient, outcomes? Or do you admit what many people already know and say that our political process has gone into total system failure and the overriding priority is building the long-term case for structural reform of America’s lawmaking process? Put another way, can you really solve any of our policy problems until you solve our fundamental political problem?

As I’ve said before, it’s not at all clear to me that our inability to get big legislation passed is the fault of our system.  It looks very much more to me like a failure of the people currently in that system.

American history offers plenty of examples of our system producing huge legislation, sometimes by the fistful.  The system is the same, today.  What’s different is the people in it.

In short: the people from one party are political degenerates, and the people from the other party are inexplicably terrified of those degenerates. That’s why we aren’t seeing huge legislation passed, despite the Dems’ enormous political advantage right now.  The problem isn’t the system; it’s that the people populating the system, on both sides, are losers.

Furthermore, I’m pretty sure the reforms that Klein and Yglesias would like to see would not be beneficial to the country.  They would result in round 2 of America’s sectional strife.

This country has made huge progressive leaps exactly 3 times in its history.  The first one took the bloodiest war in the nation’s history.  The second took 25% unemployment simultaneous with a catastrophic environmental anomaly.  The third took protracted, direct, person-to-person involvement on a tremendous scale and at great personal risk.

I’m pretty sure we don’t want to repeat either of the first 2 methods.  But tinkering with the rules in the ways I’ve seen Klein, Yglesias, Hendrik Hertzberg, and others advocate will, I believe, inevitably lead to a repeat of the first; because all of the changes they advocate boil down to greatly reducing the political representation of the South, the Mountain West, and rural areas pretty much everywhere, while greatly expanding the political representation of the coasts and large cities.

Look at those dividing lines and tell me: how do you think the folks on the losing side will react to having those folks on the winning side effectively shut them out of the political process?


No, if we want to make another huge progressive leap, the path to take is the third.  Tinkering with the rules is quick and easy, by comparison, but the price is much too high.

In Which I Do Not Rant

June 26, 2009

The new, positive me sez Ezra Klein makes a good point, partially justifying the Dems’ weak-kneed approach to health care reform:

If President Obama had begun health reform with a speech aggressively laying out the case for single payer, the next morning’s newspapers would be filled with stories suggesting that 40 Republicans and 30 Democrats had pronounced Obama’s health reform effort dead on arrival. And when that got torn apart, Obama’s credibility on the issue would’ve been substantially shredded.