System vs. People III


Yglesias is at it again.  I think the thing that bugs me most about this is that it has become the go-to explanation for both Yglesias and Klein; not a day goes by that they don’t declare the weakness or failure of some legislation to be the fault of a bad system.  It’s extremely lazy as an explanation, and it takes all the responsibility off our politicians.  Instead of blaming the system, these 2 leading voices in the liberal blogosphere ought to be calling the Democrats to account for their inexplicable squishiness.

Yglesias, to his credit, at least occasionally also includes a brief comment to the effect of, “You know, senators are powerful people and have agency in all this.”

Still, his primary explanation is the system:

One thing that I do think is missing from this, however, is the Republicans. Specifically the group of Republicans—Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Judd Gregg, Richard Burr, Mel Martinez, George Voinovich, Richard Lugar, Chuck Grassley, and John Ensign—who represent seats that Obama won in the election. When Bush was President, it wasn’t just that Republicans saw it as their job to push the Bush agenda, Democrats who represented areas where Bush was popular were reluctant to stand in his way. You’re not seeing much of that on the GOP side these days. And I don’t feel like you’re seeing much in the way of deliberate efforts by the White House to bring pressure to bear on that crew.

The other thing is that the White House hasn’t so much as offered up a teensy-weensy whine about the fact that the Senate has changed the rules and decided to start applying a routine 60-vote supermajority requirement to his nominees and legislation. Obama is an ex-senator and perhaps as such has personally bought into the bizarre self-justifying myths that circulate in the world’s worst deliberative body. But I think that this is a giant mistake. The President should be pointing out that majority-supported policy ideas and nominees are being bottled up by insane procedural tactics.

See how he started off, there, with an argument that actually put pressure on actual people with power?  See how he ended by returning to his beef with the system?

Insane procedural tactics are not worth doodly-squat if the people with the most power employ the tools at their disposal.

Obama hasn’t applied any pressure to those 9 GOP senators from states he won.  None.  That’s Obama’s fault, not the filibuster’s.  And it’s inexcusable.  He hasn’t used the bully pulpit to raise the public ire over the abuse of the filibuster.  Neither has Senator Mudpuddle — Harry Reid.

The filibuster rule is there for a reason.  It’s a good rule.  But it does presuppose that employing it will be politically expensive to those who employ it.  That cost is what prevents its abuse.  But since neither Senator Mudpuddle nor Pres. Obama is imposing any cost whatsoever on the GOP for filibustering, there’s no incentive for them not to use it.  Likewise, since there are no consequences for conservative Dems who break ranks and vote against their own caucus on cloture, there’s no incentive for them not to.

Right now, filibustering is 100% free.  And as Yglesias points out often with regard to parking: making anything free leads to overconsumption of that thing.  If you want less consumption of the filibuster, you have to raise the price.

It’s the Democrats who have lowered the cost to zero.  This is their fault.  Leadership has to lead, and right now it isn’t.


4 Responses to “System vs. People III”

  1. jazzbumpa Says:

    By now, you might think I come just to disagree – though you are inordinately gracious about it. Not so, though. I think you and I are, if not on the same page, at least in the same chapter. Most of my disagreements are at the margins.

    Here, as in all the posts in this series, I don’t think it’s an either/or choice. Surely the people are flawed – fatally so in many cases. But that does not exonerate the system. Suggesting that it does is a false dichotomy.

    There’s an idea in industrial management regarding process. This was never my field, so I won’t have it quite right. But – broad brush, when a process (and all work is a process) is failing or performing sub-optimally, It is always the process, and never the people.

    If it were the people, then replacing them would do the trick – assuming you can find the right replacements, which is pretty dicey on its own. But the “SYSTEM” also includes the selection process, and all of the power influences that come into play on the selected individuals – e.g. fallible, corruptible human beings.

    The answer is to improve the system, not to hope for angels in the infield.


  2. urbino Says:

    I like that you disagree. It makes things more interesting. Especially since all the other people who used to post here rarely even comment.

    You’re right that I’ve presented something of a false dichotomy. That was intentional, to emphasize the necessity of keeping our eyes on the ball: the people we’ve got in office. And to counterbalance Yglesias and Klein’s overemphasis on system.

    Are there some things about the system that could be improved? Yes. Are there some things going on that our system wasn’t built to deal with? Yes. But in both cases, they’re not the things Yglesias and Klein have in mind.

    Meanwhile, history indicates that the machinery works just fine when the people in control of it put their shoulder into it. The GOP spent 2001-06 passing a tremendous amount of highly ideological legislation, despite a narrow senate advantage. Reagan got a lot of the legislation he wanted even though the Dems controlled congress. Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, etc., got voting rights and the entire Great Society through congress — despite it being harder to break a filibuster then than it is now.

    How’d they do that? By going all out for what they wanted. Twisting arms, punishing strays, rewarding loyalty, and above all, driving public opinion. IOW, by engaging in politics.

    The Dems in leadership now seem to have mistaken politics for an exercise in philosophical persuasion. Using rewards and coercion to get people to go along with you is somehow out of bounds.

    I like philosophical discussions more than most people, and it would be great if government could work that way. But it doesn’t. To govern, you have to knock some heads and horsetrade for votes.

    Our system is perfectly workable for people who are willing to do that, as history demonstrates. It fails under people who are not.

  3. jazzbumpa Says:

    It’s pretty hard for me to think of the “successes” of Ronnie and W as evidence that the system works. iMHO, those were the two most destructive administrations in recent history.

    I get your point – but there’s a nuance here. Viz: How’d they do that? By going all out for what they wanted.

    It’s the wanting that’s lacking. How many genuine liberals are there in the legislative branch? Three today, by my count, and one of them is old and sick. Executive Branch? Zero. SCOTUS? Negative, if that’s possible.

    Political discourse in this country has been between the right and the far right for decades. And most people who should be progressive have been brainwashed into wingnuttery. Perhaps the impending depression will rekindle some genuine progressivism in the general population. But, damn, that is painful.

  4. I need to buy a lottery ticket, quick! « Hungry Hungry Hippos Says:

    […] Senator Mudpuddle describes his senate “leadership” style almost exactly the same way I described it yesterday (see also here and here): Reid says he expects the tactic of gentle persuasion to work […]

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