Thursday, December 16, 2010

Compositions for the Young and Old

Ah, nostalgia.  David Kurtz, perhaps in tribute to baseball great Bob Feller (and you just know that wherever Feller is, he's rehearsing arguments about how those young punks just don't know how to die like they did in The Old Days), argues that Bipartisan Commissions have gone downhill:
Maybe some of our older readers can help give me a reality check here, but were the blue ribbon commissions of the 1950s through 1980s as deeply compromised and flawed as the ones today?

Even as late as the 9/11 commission earlier this decade, you could put together a group of distinguished citizens and expect they would yield a consensus that bore some relation to reality and wasn't shamelessly partisan's not a commission, but I'd say it doesn't get much worse than the Congressional Joint Committee on the Iran-Contra affair, so that gets us back to 1987-1988.

More broadly, I think it's a real mistake to think of the recent deficit commission as a failure.  As I (and many others) saw it from the beginning, it's goal was first of all to kick the deficit can down the road past the election, and second of all to provide one or more markers (not road maps, but markers) of what an actual budget-balancing plan might look like, in order to provide a demonstration against GOP claims that the budget can be balanced by cutting taxes and eliminating earmarks.

Now, perhaps that wasn't Barack Obama's goal, but that's sure what it looked like to me, and it fits with the realistic idea of what commissions can do: to provide cover for things that pols want to do (or not do) but don't want to take credit for.  

Generally, while Congress is certainly more polarized than it used to be, and parties are in my view much stronger than they were thirty or forty years ago, I'm not at all sure that individual party politicians are all that much more partisan than they were thirty or forty years ago.  Tip O'Neill was a very partisan guy; I don't know that Nancy Pelosi is any more partisan.  It's just that the context of legislating is more party driven than it was in the 1970s.

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