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January 24, 2011

Long Live Disharmony...The Savior Of The Republic

A few days ago Slu wrote a great post about the stupid bipartisan seating plan for the State of the Union. Since then the movement has only gotten more absurd. I'm pretty sure Kirsten "The Hot One" Gillibrand and John Thune are going to be elected Homecoming King and Queen.

What I really hate about this is that the parties were never supposed to get along (ok, technically the founders hated the idea of parties but they were an inevitable part of America from Day 1). The entire American system is based on competing power centers limiting each other. The Constitution is a deft piece of political engineering where forces are set against each other in tension to create a rigid and durable structure. Remove some of those tensions and the whole system weakens.

Our two party system is less well designed, it was never really designed actually, but it also serves an important function. By constantly competing for broad swaths of the electorate (unlike a multi-party parliamentary system where minority parties can wield undue influence), American parties are forced to play within a fairly narrow band of options. This usually works well because the federal government isn't designed to do the kind of big heroic things that give Tom Friedman and David Brooks erections. They and other liberals see this as a bug, I see it as a feature.

Other than matters of war and peace (and even that's more theoretical than reality), I don't want the parties working together. When they work together things get done and experience shows that's when the trouble starts.

The system really breaks down when one party (almost inevitably the Democrats) gets too much power or help from the other. They then can bend the political branches of government to their will. At that point, it becomes possible to do something really big and stupid like Social Security. Toss in a complaint judiciary and you have the roots of today's fiscal crisis. Had there been an effective opposition in the New Deal and Great Society eras, they could have stopped feel good but ruinous programs.

In fairness, Republicans did oppose those programs but the Democrats had them out numbered and the will of the voters was done. That's nice and all but those people only voted themselves the goodies, while leaving their posterity, us, not "a more perfect union" but an unsustainable level of spending and debt. The limitations on majorities to wreak such havoc on future generations is supposed to be a benefit of the limits on the constitutional reach of the federal government. The concept stands...too much political agreement often leads to disastrous results.

The problem now is gridlock plays into the hands of those who created the mess. If we can't build an overwhelming coalition to undo what liberals have wrought, they win by default (until we run out of places to borrow money from). Part of building that coalition to undo the worst of the excesses means affixing blame and punishing those who enable the system (including Republicans like Robert Bennett when a viable replacement is electable). We aren't going to create the environment where hard choices can be made if we soften the distinctions between the parties.

Democrats aren't going to "work with us" to fix the problems they created, so what's the point in courting them?


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posted by DrewM. at 12:40 PM

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