Posts Tagged ‘It’s Even Worse Than It Looks’

The real problem is the bipartisan consensus

November 5, 2012

Two respected Washington analysts, Thomas E. Mann of the reputedly liberal Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein, of the avowedly conservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote a book earlier this year entitled It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, about government gridlock.

The problem, they said, is the Republican leadership, which during the Obama administration has used the threat of the filibuster, cloture and other parliamentary delaying tactics to obstruct the normal function of government.  Our system of checks and balances, they say, has become dysfunctional.

I have glanced through their book, although I have not read it in full, and I think what they wrote is factually true.  Delaying tactics that in the past were used in extreme situations are now used routinely by the Republicans in Congress to wage political warfare against the Obama administration.

I don’t think the Republican leadership is exclusively to blame for this.  I also blame President Obama and the Democratic leadership for not fighting back.  The worst abuse was in setting up a situation in which a 60-vote majority was necessary to get anything through the Senate.  But the Democrats could have changed the rules at the opening of the Senate session, as Republicans threatened to do when Democrats were in the minority.

The larger problem, in my opinion, is not Republican obstructionism, but the measures that do get bipartisan support—undeclared wars, presidential death warrants, the bank bailouts, the “war on terror” and the “war on drugs.”   Every issue mentioned in the Tom Tomorrow cartoon [1] represents bipartisan consensus.  If somebody had tried to filibuster the National Defense Authorization Act or the renewal of the USA Patriot Act, I would have applauded them.

What can an American citizen do to break out of this bipartisan consensus?  One way is to engage in protests and demonstrations, like my friend Hal.  Another is to join a political party and work within it for change, like my friend Michael.  These are both honorable choices.  My way is to vote for someone outside the political consensus, such as the Green or Libertarian candidate.  I plan to vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party, but if Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party were the only alternative Presidential candidate on the ballot, I would vote for him.

This is a time to be thankful that the United States is a federal system and that the Constitution establishes checks and balances based on a separation of powers.  Whatever hopes there are for progressive social change rest with state governments, not in Washington.  Since we have 50 different state governments, it’s possible that at least one of them will be a laboratory for successful social reform, such as Vermont experimenting with a public option for health care.

If you believe you have to vote for a major-party candidate for President, you can look for principled liberal Democrats, libertarian Republicans or third-party candidates to support for the Senate and the House of Representatives and for state and local offices.  Even a minority voice can remind the public that there are possibilities outside the bipartisan consensus.  The Founders established the principle of separation of powers in the Constitution precisely for the kind of situation that exists today.   An independent Senate and House of Representatives are not a problem.  They are part of the system of checks and balances we need now more than ever.

Click on Naked Truths for a review of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks by Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker.

Click on The US presidential debates’ illusion of political choice for a comment on the bipartisan consensus by Glenn Greenwald for The Guardian.

Click on A case for Gary Johnson and Why I’m Voting Green for alternatives to the bipartisan consensus.

Click on This Modern World for Tom Tomorrow’s web log.

[1]  Unlike Tom Tomorrow, I do not advocate new federal gun control legislation.