System vs. People II, Revenge of the People



At the end of the day, climate is just exactly the sort of issue where the American political system is well-designed to catastrophically screw up. The incentives are all horrible. Things will only happen if a certain number of people decide to step up, and behave in a statesmanlike manner. You don’t need 100 Senators to do that, but you do need more than zero.

He says the problem is the terrible design of the American political system.  He says the solution is having more than zero senators who aren’t total tools.  Note the mismatch.  If the problem were really the system, the solution would be a better system, not better people.

I don’t mean to set up a false dichotomy, here.  A system that didn’t work unless all the people in it behaved honorably 100% of the time would be a terrible, totally unworkable system.  But as Yglesias notes, ours isn’t such a system.  We just need a few people to behave honorably every now and then.  Otherwise, our system of pitting self-interest against self-interest works well.

Our problem is that we haven’t had any of those people in the past 10 years.  In fact, we haven’t even had much clash of self-interests.

That’s something the Founders never anticipated when they were setting up our political institutions.  They assumed everybody would act to protect their own power and self-interest.  Remarkably, the members of congress — of both parties — didn’t do that during the Bush administration.  They quite intentionally abandoned their constitutional powers of oversight, investigation, and even lawmaking.  Many GOP members also failed to act in their own self-interest; they lined up behind the president despite his enormous unpopularity in his second term; many of them even at the cost of their own careers.  Some Democrats shared their fate, thanks to primary challenges from the left.

That kind of self-immolating obeisance of one branch before another is something our system just does not anticipate, and cannot function under.

4 Responses to “System vs. People II, Revenge of the People”

  1. jazzbumpa Says:

    I think you’re on the wrong track here. A few people – like maybe 1 short of a supermajority – behaving honorably is exactly as effective as 0 people behaving honorably. Remember when Rep Conyers tried to conduct some business in an unused washroom in the third sub-basement of an rat-infested warehouse in Wilmington*, and the fucking Republicans literally turned off the God-damned lights?**

    OK. That was then, and this is now. Why don’t the Democrats correct all this in 2009? Simple – they are owned by big business***. This might not be THE systemic flaw, but it is certainly A systemic flaw. And one that the Founding Fathers in a dominantly agrarian society could never have anticipated.

    If you think the people are the problem, then we need people who can’t be bought. You see, these people – in both parties – are acting in their own self interest. $$$$ cary a lot of weight.

    * ok – slight exaggeration.
    ** You can decide not to rant, but that won’t stop me.
    *** international — with no particular allegiance to this country or it’s people, even when incorporated in Delaware.

  2. jazzbumpa Says:

    (I attempted to comment here a couple of days ago, and it disappeared into the ether. Alas, a bit of spontaneous brilliance I will never be able to duplicate.)

    But, I disagree. A few people acting honorably can do exactly nothing: frex, when Congressman Conyers tried to hold a hearing, was relegated to the basement and the GOP literally turned off the lights. Frex: Sen. Sanders pushing single payer healthcare uphill against a stiff wind.

    No, my friend, it takes a majority, and sometimes even a supermajority to accomplish anything.

    Also, the GOP did act in their own best interest (or what it was perceived to be.) The party suffered, eventually, but as individuals they got percs, personal enrichment, the support of the party. Mistaken short-term thinking? Probably, but that only makes them human.

    That kind of self-immolating obeisance of one branch before another is something our system just does not anticipate, and cannot function under.

    As I said in the previous post, this sure sounds like an indictment of the system.

  3. urbino Says:

    (Your lost comment wound up in the spam filter, for some reason. As you can see, I’ve rescued it. Far be it from me to allow spontaneous brilliance to go a-wasting.)

  4. jazzbumpa Says:

    Thanks. But that makes my second post almost totally redundant.

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