Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cranky Wednesday Blogging 4

Jon Avlon reacts to the demise of the Benator with the creakiest of cliches, the "all the moderates are leaving" piece. Just as awful as you might expect. Particularly annoying is this bit:
There was a time when divided government did not mean dysfunctional government. The presence of conservative Democrats and progressive Republicans helped ensure that cross-aisle coalitions could be formed to find solutions on the most pressing issues of the day, from the Marshall Plan to the Interstate Highway System to civil rights.
He's talking about a fairly long stretch here, from the 1940s through the 1960s, but much of that time was completely characterized by failing to "find solutions to the most pressing issues of the day." Such as, for example, civil rights. Because a dysfunctional Congress allowed Southern Democrats to tie up legislation that had clear majorities behind it for years and years.

Hey, I liked Ben Nelson. I have no problems at all with the occasional nonentity in the Senate. And I do think it's generally a good thing when parties nominate moderates to allow them to compete in ideologically hostile territory. But, c'mon; no one is actually going to miss the Benator, who was hardly the type of Senator who helps solve "the most pressing issues of the day."

Oh, and the historic 111th Congress, for all its polarization, was far more productive than any postwar Congress through 1962, at least. You know, legislating in the US is hard. It's always been hard. It's designed that way. It was hard before Ben Nelson, hard while he was around, and it'll be hard after he's gone. But it's very difficult, I'd say, to make the case that Nelson did very much to make it easier.


  1. Legislation ought to be hard to pass. Calhoun had a thing or two to say on this issue. If you believe that the way to solve problems is to steamroller the minority, then sure, the 111th Congress was "productive" and the 1940s through the 1960s was a failure. But if the idea is to form "cross-aisle coalitions" - you know, like the article says! - then not so much. You may note that huge progress was made on civil rights in the 1940s and 1950s, that no-one dreams of undoing. There is a difference between minorities blocking legislation (fantastic) and all government coming to a standstill (disaster). The former, but not the latter, was the story of the earlier period. The latter is the story of today.

  2. Calhoun had a thing or two to say on some other issues, too...

  3. Another good point is that “moderates” can be uncompromising ideologues in their own right. Just take Hiz Honor in NYC. This guy is supposedly the archetype of the moderate and compromising politician that Washington is lacking but when faced with the problem of some college kids protesting the massive investment banks that destroyed the world economy he responses with outrage, bluster and searing criticism (occupy people weren’t just un-American, the were hurting middle class workers in New York somehow as well according to Mayor of America’s largest city.) There’s nothing about a policy preference that makes it uncompromising, it’s the method of politics in the public arena that produces gridlock and dysfunction. After all, the President took a very “middle of the road” approach to deficit reduction with the so called “grand bargain” and what happened? The GOP vetoed it.

    Paul Wellstone and Ralph Nader were both pretty liberal guys with somewhat similar policy preferences, but the each took diametrically opposite approaches to politics. A more "moderate" Nader would not be a better legislator than the current one and a more "moderate" and headstrong Wellstone probably would have been a worse one.

  4. Whether or not Congress is actually functioning, people perceive it to not be functioning. (poll numbers bear out the decline in trust in all political institutions, above and beyond the usual sport of Congress-bashing). It's not good for democracy if people think democracy isn't working--even if people's preferences are being aggregated accurately and they're really just whining about the results.


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