Free Markets, Free People

Destroying The “Ungovernable” Canard

Jay Cost at the Real Clear Politics blog takes on the emerging liberal canard about America suddenly becoming “ungovernable”:

Recently, some analysts have suggested that the lack of major policy breakthroughs in the last year is due to the fact that America has become ungovernable. Ezra Klein argued that it was time to reform the filibuster because the government cannot function with it intact anymore. Tom Friedman suggested that America’s “political instability” was making people abroad nervous. And Michael Cohen of Newsweek blamed “obstructionist Republicans,” “spineless Democrats,” and an “incoherent public” for the problem.

Nonsense. America is not ungovernable. Her President has simply not been up to the job.

Cost goes on to lay out, in some pretty good detail why he claims Obama hasn’t been up to the job. And I think he does a pretty thorough job. Be sure to read it all.

He also mentions something in there that I think is lost on the left and sometimes the right. While for many of us, we’ve seen government grow well beyond what we find acceptable or prudent, we actually could be worse off. And one of the reasons we’re not is the inherent design of the system of government we have. The same design many on the left now find frustrating and obstructive.

Let’s acknowledge that governing the United States of America is an extremely difficult task. Intentionally so. When designing our system, the Founders were faced with a dilemma. How to empower a vigorous government without endangering liberty or true republicanism? On the one hand, George III’s government was effective at satisfying the will of the sovereign, but that will had become tyrannical. On the other hand, the Articles of Confederation acknowledged the rights of the states, but so much so that the federal government was incapable of solving basic problems.

The solution the country ultimately settled on had five important features: checks and balances so that the branches would police one another; a large republic so that majority sentiment was fleeting and not intensely felt; a Senate where the states would be equal; enumerated congressional powers to limit the scope of governmental authority; and the Bill of Rights to offer extra protection against the government.

The end result was a government that is powerful, but not infinitely so. Additionally, it is schizophrenic. It can do great things when it is of a single mind – but quite often it is not of one mind. So, to govern, our leaders need to build a broad consensus. When there is no such consensus, the most likely outcome is that the government will do nothing.

The President’s two major initiatives – cap-and-trade and health care – have failed because there was not a broad consensus to enact them. Our system is heavily biased against such proposals. That’s a good thing.

So, as Cost points out, governing America is hard. But that’s a feature not a bug. It is intentionally hard because within that system is a means for the minority to be heard. That’s a critical feature. Because of that feature, the majority isn’t able to ram through legislation that isn’t acceptable to a broad base of the voting constituency. Health care reform and cap-and-trade represent legislation that has been found wanting in that regard. So the left, who used it like a Stradivarius when they were in the minority, now want that check eliminated in the Senate (kill the filibuster) and pine for the good old days of elite rule when, they claim, ramming through major legislation was so much easier.

No real surprise there.

Which brings me to Richard Fernandez’s take on this subject. He agrees with 99% of what Cost says, but says there is 1% where he’d differ:

The Left doesn’t want to govern, it wants to rule given the chance. It is as always willing to leave its own Big Tent behind at the decisive moment. The continual calls from the Democrat Left for Obama to ‘grow a spine’ are really coded calls to say that the moment is now; that the President must ‘’seize the day, seize the hour”. It’s not as Cost imagines, a call to compromise. It’s a call to say that the time for compromise is over. They can drop the mask; they can hoist the Jolly Roger.

I think Fernandez is right. Remember “I won” soon after Obama’s assumption of power? That bit of gloating was a moment the mask dropped.

The left would much rather rule than govern. It is certainly easier. And it tends to agree more with their authoritarian bent.

Governing is a messy and hard business in which they must listen and react to constituents. It means they actually are servants to the public. On the other hand, ruling means the elite choose what the constituency should live with since it is believed by them that the elite know best what that should be. Those they represent exist only to justify the presence of their rulers. The only difference between our left wing and that which founded the USSR is ours haven’t ever had the chance to effect the change those in Soviet Russia did. To this point, our system has mostly prevented it. But redistribution of income, more government intrusiveness and more government control are certainly the obvious desired results of most of the left’s agenda.

And, much to the frustration of the left, the system is preventing it again (with the stipulation that the GOP doesn’t find a way to cave and pass the unpopular bills cited above).

I’m not sure what Barack Obama thought he’d be able to do in terms of “ruling” instead of “governing”, but I’m sure that those who supported his “hope and change” agenda weren’t looking for a ruler. However it is clear, per Cost’s article, they’ve not gotten someone who can govern either (back to the leadership problem again). And, somewhat surprisingly, Obama doesn’t seem to understand the situation he’s put himself in as he doubles down on the leftist agenda he’s allowed liberal Congressional Democrats to craft. He, like so many deluded politicians, is convinced the problem with lack of popular support for the agenda is to be found with the message’s delivery, not with the message itself.

Cost concludes with an answer that I think fairly well destroys the “ungovernable” canard:

This remains a divided country, which creates complications in a system such as ours. The President should have recognized this, and governed with a view to building a broad coalition. But he has not.

America is not ungovernable. Barack Obama has so far failed to govern it.

Here’s to further frustration to the left and their agenda by the “ungovernable” among us.

~McQ

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44 Responses to Destroying The “Ungovernable” Canard

  • The current maneuvering of the White House on health care reform continues the “urge to rule.” Clearly there is no attempt to find consensus or build alliances, but rather to draw the appearance of such and then “spin” the result.
    The paradox is that when government is divided, the urge to “buy votes” seems worse.

  • I don’t want to be “governed” or ruled.  Just give me simple set of rules, say, the U.S. Constitution as an example, then leave me the heck alone.  If I know what the rules are I’ll “govern” myself quite well, thank you very much.

    • But you might make the wrong choices, and we can’t have thatSo the fewer things you have to choose from, the better, and if the government establishes the choices available it will be for your own good, and you’ll be happier, even if you don’t feel happier (hopeless prole, like you could possibly take care of yourself without the benevolent help of your superiors).

  • Notice how Obama is disappointing the left in his own party, and working for compromises?   He’s been doing this since he came to office, and liberals claim he is “naive” in thinking the Republicans want to govern.   They say the Republicans simply want to create their own ideological state, and will refuse to solve problems — thus to the left, Obama should drop the naive hope of cooperation and compromise and ram through what he can.
    It’s interesting how the left and right often mirror each other in how they perceive the other side.   The attribute the other side with the same things that get attributed to them by the other side.  Obama’s strength is that he has a way to combine principle with a desire to compromise and be pragmatic.   That is similar to Reagan and Clinton, though I think Obama is less like Clinton (who was more willing to sacrifice principle) than Reagan.   Also, don’t forget the economy.   Reagan fell to 38% approval by 1983 and was seen as a failed President and incompetent leader early on.    Sometimes all those charges are noise — what really matters is what the economy is doing.

    • It’s a campaign ploy, there’s no wonder that he’s brought his campaign manager back to work.

    • But most of Obama’s compromises are based on compromising with reality, not the Republicans.

    • Oh, and THIS is what the official White House response is to a private citizen that they don’t have the grace to just laugh off because they have absolutely no class in the first place.  10 year olds often have better self control.
       
      You should be horrified that the most powerful office in the world is acting in such an immature, smarmy way with the number of real problems they are confronted with.  This is childish, absolutely childish.

      • Obviously we need a national program to provide everyone with teleprompters so that we don’t have to write on lur hands.

        Big deal. I have written notes on my hand when necessary, and I have seen lots of other people do the same. Perhaps if some of those other Washington morons did it, they would make more sense and not have to resort to quite as much BS when they don’t know something.

        This is just more evidence that Palin is just not cool enough to be a real political figure. Only us rubes do things like that.

      • CORPSE-MAN

      • LOL, that was hilarious.   Geez, get a sense of humor looker, you take this far too seriously.  (Still chuckling).

        • No, and I’m going to use a word I don’t use lightly because it so handily applies -
          so I’ll start again -
          No asshole, it’s a serious business, and there’s nothing funny about the White House using their daily press briefing to belittle anyone, ANY ONE.  I don’t like it when it’s done by conservatives, and I don’t like it when it’s done by progressive liberals.  It’s beneath the office, no matter who occupies it.
           
          So stuff it.

          • Now I’m  laughing at you, looker.   I and many others think it’s hilarious and think that you’re a bitter old sod taking it so seriously.  Oh well, to each his own.
            *rolling my eyes*

          • You and many others?  I have a fan club?  a following?  heh, unlikely.
             
            Haven’t you got kids to put sun tan lotion on to keep them safe from global warming?
             
             

    • I think that the radical left is just as disappointed with Obama as the right is, for the same reason– he seems unable or unwilling to step up and lead.  Vacillating is a way of upsetting both sides, but it is not a good thing.  He wants to try and play both sides, but doesn’t appear to have the strength of character required for it.  He needs to either tell the radical left that health care must pass in a very different form than they demand, or he needs to tell everyone else that he wants the full reform package that he and the radical left have defined.
       
      But he doesn’t do either.  He pays lip service to the fringe left and tries to play cheap games with the right, presenting them with almost no options while touting it as bipartisanship.  He plays things so close to the vest that no one is really sure just what it is he’s proposing, which severely undermines his trustworthiness.  He stops at offering vague generalities and sound bites, going no further.  When it all backfires, he points fingers in every direction but his own, except as a last facetious resort.
       
      Until he steps up, he will have these problems.  I have no faith in his ability to step up and actually take on the challenge.  Barring a sudden economic recovery he is going to be in serious trouble in both 2010 and 2012.

    • Erb today:

      thus to the left, Obama should drop the naive hope of cooperation and compromise and ram through what he can

      Erb 6 months ago:

      I think the Democratic party and Barack Obama need to cease their efforts to create bi-partisan health care reform, and instead use their majorities to pass their agenda

    • Notice how Obama is disappointing the left in his own party, and working for compromises?   He’s been doing this since he came to office,

      >>>> “I won”

      Yeah, real statesman that.

      Do you even have a rudimentary grasp of reality any more?

      • PS-

        How did evil unilateral Bush manage to get his agenda pushed through with a much slimmer majority than the Supermajority St Obama enjoyed.

        We’re not ungovernable. Obama just can’t govern.

        • OK, use reconciliation the way Bush did.  I guess that’s an option for Obama.  Though, to be sure, Bush did not get his “Opportunity society” agenda through at all.   You can’t really blame the Democrats for that, it was really Iraq.   By choosing war, Bush destroyed his capacity to pass most of his agenda.  After the initial tax cuts (enhanced via a reconciliation vote), the biggest accomplishment was an expensive medicare drug bill — bigger government.   Otherwise, Bush accomplished very little in terms of his original agenda.  If he hadn’t invaded Iraq, perhaps he’d have been able to enact the “opportunity society” and substantially cut government.    We’ll never know.   He choose war.

          • The snippier you get, Scott, the more factually unreliable you are. Note that I wrote more factually unreliable, because you rarely know your facts or bother to check them, or change them when you are corrected (no learning curve, at all). Then there are your premises, which you should have checked by a specialist.

          • Scott, I think your are missing the point of Bush and the reconciliation process.  Reconciliation is designed to deal solely with budget issues.  It is not designed for policy initiatives.   They Byrd rule works t prevent that.  So, if the Democrats try to use reconciliation to get health care through, the will basically end up with a swiss cheese bill that is mostly tax increases.  That is why it is such an empty threat.
             
            Bush also differed with the Obama administration in just the way you suggest.  After the Medicare drug benefit, which was a campaign promise ( which, in fact, limited what the Democrats wanted to do) he concentrated on the highest value issue rather than trying to outsource a whole bunch of stuff.  Do not forget 9/11 was forced on him.  He did not choose 9/11 as some kind of foreign policy initiative.

    • Notice how Obama is disappointing the left in his own party, and working for compromises?

      No, we haven’t.

      He’s been doing this since he came to office,

      Like when he first came into office saying, “I WON”?
      Erb, here’s a suggestion: Lithium.

      • Obama has a huge majority in the House and had a rare fillibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate — and still has 59 votes, and he tried to ram through a health care bill that the American people did not want. That’s some leadership.

        It cost the Democrats the Senate seat of the beloved Kennedy imbecile.

        Now Obama will lead by blaming Trotskyites Republicans. What a bold genius!

    • Scott, I have not seen Obama attempt any copormises.  Oh, he talks about it, but when push comes to shove, he wants it his way.

      • He’s put issues like tort reform out there — things he’s willing to compromise on if the Republicans engage in a true give and take.   But he can’t simply compromise unilaterally, compromises involve both sides negotiating.   So until the Republicans are willing to sit down with Obama and test the waters, he can’t compromise.

        • He’s put issues like tort reform out there — things he’s willing to compromise on if the Republicans engage in a true give and take. And no, I don’t have to give any links supporting that or showing that it was anything more than a throw-away line in a campaign speech.

          But he can’t simply compromise unilaterally, compromises involve both sides negotiating. So until the Republicans are willing to sit down with Obama and test the waters, he can’t compromise. And they certainly should not be the least bit suspicious that Obama is not serious about going against one of his most important special interest groups and campaign contributors. He’s serious! He is, I tell you! He’ll take on those trial lawyers, and all the Republicans have to do is first sit down with Obama and make a bunch of concessions on healthcare and his jobs bill and stuff like that. Then Obama would see their goodwill start compromising up a storm. He would! Stop laughing!

  • And speaking of why we’re ungovernable – probably a lot of the proles won’t see the clear and pressing need for this sort of spending to help the economy in these trying times.  This is perfect.  Perhaps 200 people can be employed here with rakes to keep the beach groomed eh?
    Maybe a little extra so we can build an airfield where they can land Air Pelosi flights?
     
     

  • By the way, do these pundits really want to make the country ‘more governable’ knowing that there is the potential for 2012 to end with a Republican administration and a Republican majority in congress?  The rules for governing this nation often seem like a useless and outdated roadblock when ‘your’ party is in control, but they are a saving grace when it is the other way around.  Be careful what you wish for.

  • But many are experiencing what generations of the politically passionate have learned over the years: Campaigning is fun; watching the person you’ve elected engage in the long slog of governing, less so.

  •  I, for one, am glad to know that our country and people are “ungovernable”: the Spirit of ’76 is still with us.  May it always be so.

    Let’s acknowledge that governing the United States of America is an extremely difficult task. Intentionally so. When designing our system, the Founders were faced with a dilemma. How to empower a vigorous government without endangering liberty or true republicanism?

    Is it possible to heap too much thanks and praise on the men who wrote the Constitution?  Has any other nation in history ever been blessed with such an excellent framework for good government?

    The Left doesn’t want to govern, it wants to rule given the chance.

    It isn’t just the left, I’m sorry to say.  Many people seem to have the basic belief that they know better than their neighbor how to live his life, and will do it if given half a chance.

    This remains a divided country, which creates complications in a system such as ours.

    I think that this is something that shouldn’t be lost in the current debate.  Much is made in some circles of a resurgence of conservatism* in the country, and Republicans are getting outright giddy at the prospect of clobbering the filthy democrats in November.  While I long to see an end to democrat control of the Congress^, I don’t think that the country is lurching decisively to the right.  Rather, people are frightened by the debt that the government is rapidly piling up and angry that all the money being spent isn’t really helping John Q. Public very much at all; they will probably vote for Republicans just because that’s the only alternative to keeping the democrats in power. 

    The left made a similar miscalculation after the last two national elections.  They thought that the country (at long last!) was ready for the full spectrum of liberal policies to be enacted, resulting in the creation (at long last!) of an American socialist state.  They didn’t realize that all that had really happened was that the public, frustrated with the wars in Iraq and A-stan and angry that the economy was slumping, was simply giving the other side a shot at fixing our problems.  Had Imeme and the dems not bungled this so spectacularly; had they not so brazenly broken so many overblown promises; had MiniTru not made him into a demi-god; and had he possessed even a whit of actual leadership ability, the dems would not be in their current fix and the GOP would be facing the prospect of only modest gains in the Congress this November, not the blow-out they are hoping for.

    —–

    (*) What does “conservatism” mean, anyway?  In the current context, it pretty much means fiscal conservatism, and more specifically not running such huge deficits.  While people are starting to get an idea of just how bad deficits and resulting debt are, I don’t think the country as a whole is ready to embrace a balanced budget, much less budget surpluses: too many programs would have to be cut and / or too many people would have to pay more in taxes.

    (^) The authoritarian in me would like to throw them into prison or out of the country; an excellent reason why I should NEVER hold office!

    • There are any number of “conservatives”. Socons – socially conservative. Fiscal cons – fiscally conservative. Neo-cons. Paleo-cons Etc.

      In the context of the tea parties though, it primarily means fiscally conservative. And constitutional. That’s why it fits the GOP better than Democrats. But it doesn’t mean the GOP is an “automatic” fo them – something Republicans haven’t quite figured out (and why you’re going to see Tea Party supported fiscal cons take primary shots at incumbent moderate Republicans this year.

      • Absolutely.  That quite a few Americans have discovered (at last!) that our government spends waaaayyyyy too much and it’s dangerous to our future doesn’t make them Rush / Beck / Hannity “conservatives” or Republicans, at least not permanently.  But it’s certainly a step in the right direction: maybe when enough people realize that a government that does everything costs too much, they’ll stop demanding that it do everything (people in CA, pay attention!), and perhaps from there take the next step of realizing that government should not do everything but rather leave people the hell alone.

    • I agree with a lot of what you say here.   The right and left always overreach, and then learn the hard way.   I think the ridicule some of you have for Obama is very much like what the Democrats were saying about Reagan when his approvals went south of 40%.   “He’s just a talking head, no substance, can’t lead, a failed President.”    Both sides over-estimate the role of the President.   Our founders did not make the Presidency that powerful position, the President can lead primarily through rhetoric and the ‘bully pulpit.’
      I worked in the Senate during the first and part of the second Reagan Administration.  I worked for a Republican, and when I started in 1983 people were panicking about the 1984 election, and even Republicans were down on Reagan (‘the job is just too big for him,’ one top Senate aide said to me).    But he did some things well — he delegated, gave good speeches, didn’t try to micro-manage, and had good people skills in trying to cajole people to vote with him.   Unfortunately, Reagan did not pay much attention to foreign policy, and the Iran-Contra scandal destroyed his efficacy in much of his second term.   When people praise Reagan and then diss Obama’s leadership, it shows a strong dose of partisan perception.
      Also, recall Reagan was the President who started the massive increase in debt and whose administration claimed “budget deficits don’t matter.”    Reagan in many ways was anti-conservative in terms of fiscal issues.   I fear Obama is taking a page from Reagan’s paybook in trying to simply buy our way out of a recession.   He may have a ‘morning in America’ election in 2012, but I actually think it is time to embrace the notion of balancing the budget.

      • What are you babbling about?

        I’m telling you, Scott, you need to let Ott Scerb handle these matters. He has all your themes down, and his writing is much clearer.

      • I agree with a lot of what you say here. See, I’m reasonable and moderate! I am! Stop laughing! The right and left always overreach, and then learn the hard way. The right overreaches by actually taking that “freedom” and “individual responsibility” hoohah seriously when we know positively from leftist theory that wise leftism is a better option that will win in the end. The left overreaches by expecting too much from ignorant proles. Hopefully we’ll fix that in another generation or so of indoctrination education.

        I think the ridicule some of you have for Obama is very much like what the Democrats were saying about Reagan when his approvals went south of 40%. “He’s just a talking head, no substance, can’t lead, a failed President.” Of course, that was true of Reagan, but he got lucky when oil prices went down and of course he laid the foundation of our current problems with spending, and don’t you dare bring up the long period of growth that started in his term or the fact that Democrats were the ones doing the spending! Both sides over-estimate the role of the President, but that certainly does not mean you should be blaming the Democrats for Reagan’s mistakes. Our founders did not make the Presidency that powerful position, the President can lead primarily through rhetoric and the ‘bully pulpit.’ And the fact that I’m leaving out words and doing run-on sentences is just because I’m very busy grading papers (assignment: compare and contrast Obama’s Christlike visage with Sarah Palin’s vulgar full lips and ample bosom). I just had to drop in and engage in discussion with you guys even though I’m extremely limited on time. And I don’t do it to have some dense righties to lecture to for my own self-image, so stop saying that! It’s not true! It just isn’t!

        I worked in the Senate during the first and part of the second Reagan Administration. Have I mentioned that? See, I have so much more background and credentials than you dense righties, especially the ex-military basket cases who post the main entries around here. I worked for a Republican, and when I started in 1983 people were panicking about the 1984 election, and even Republicans were down on Reagan (‘the job is just too big for him,’ one top Senate aide said to me). If he had just been listening to Washington insiders at the time, I’m sure his whole term would have gone so, so much better, and the fact that he was re-elected in a landslide in 1984 was a fluke really. We were panicking, I tell you! We were! Stop laughing, I said!

        But he did some things well — he delegated, gave good speeches, didn’t try to micro-manage, and had good people skills in trying to cajole people to vote with him. Nothing that would have make him a good president, of course. Unfortunately, Reagan did not pay much attention to foreign policy, and the Iran-Contra scandal destroyed his efficacy in much of his second term. Thank goodness. That cowboy adventurism was certainly brought to a screeching halt.

        When people praise Reagan and then diss Obama’s leadership, it shows a strong dose of partisan perception. And I said to shut up about the growth in Reagan’s term, just shut up about that! It didn’t start until a couple of years into his term! And the fact that he got it with tax cuts and not with huge new government programs is completely beside the point. Huge new government programs, as wise leftist economists have been teaching for decades, always lead to growth. Stop laughing!

        Also, recall Reagan was the President who started the massive increase in debt and whose administration claimed “budget deficits don’t matter.” And that consumerist focus is just bad for us, and I told you to shut up about the growth, the tax cuts had nothing to do with that! Reagan in many ways was anti-conservative in terms of fiscal issues. Anti-conservative, I tell you! Don’t you go blaming the Democrats for the spending during his years. Yes, I know they dominated Congress then, I was there, and they certainly taught me a lot about things really ought to work which is why I now support Obama with his Christlike visage.

        I fear Obama is taking a page from Reagan’s paybook in trying to simply buy our way out of a recession. It might work. It might! He may have a ‘morning in America’ election in 2012, but I actually think it is time to embrace the notion of balancing the budget. I do! Stop laughing, for goodness sake! You sound like hyenas! And no, I don’t have to name any areas where we need to cut spending to balance the budget! Of course I don’t mean that. I mean we ought to find a zillion ways to raise taxes on those odious rich guys who are not nearly as valuable to our society as dedicated political science professors. Of course, we might have to have some middle class tax increases too, but that’s really a small price to pay for all the wonderful government programs which Obama and I also favor. He thinks like me, you know. Thank goodness, because the Bush regime is over (finally!) and wise leftists are in control and we’re going to great and wonderful things, and that won’t either be overreaching. Excuse me while I get back to reading my old copy of “People’s History” in memoriam of Howard Zinn passing away. Such a pity to see a wise leftist like that gone forever.

  • Why is “ungovernable” so terrible? I know the political class and the authoritarian left wants to herd us around like so many cattle, but something tells me the founders would think an ornery citizenry resistant to bad govt. wouldn’t be a bad thing…

  • Our government is structurally designed to make our nation “ungovernable” except when there is extraordinary consensus.   Which is rare.

    It’s supposed to be that way.  Gridlock is the natural harmonious state.  Because most things government does, it does poorly and expensively.  Those few things it does well are generally not in the best interests of the citizenry.  Wishing for effective government is like wishing your dog and cat could open the refrigerator; they may get what they want, but it’s going to cost you.

  • There’s never been any real doubt how Obama’s supporters viewed the Presidency.  Remember Valerie Jarret’s statement in late 2008:

    “Given the daunting challenges that we face, it’s important that president elect Obama is prepared to really take power and begin to rule day one.”

  • They’re laughing at Palin, not you.  She’s sort of a female Dan Quayle, but not as intelligent or friendly.

    • Not as intelligent, or friendly.
       
      Did you get that opinion on your on, or was it a work of you and many others?  How many?  When you talk to these others, are there actually people present, or do these many others have an inexplicable tendency to talk to you from a place where you can’t actually see them, you know, like, voices, in your head perhaps.  Are they laughing with you right now, at Sarah Palin?  Are you sure they’re laughing at Sarah Palin?

    • Keep laughing at her. “Death Panels” sure helped turn opinion against Barackycare. I’m sure she’s got plenty more laugh lines that mysteriously help bury you.

      Corpse-Men

    • They’re laughing at Palin, not you. She’s sort of a female Dan Quayle, but not as intelligent or friendly. Really, how could she be? With those naughty librarian glasses that just reek of breeder instincts, those vulgar full lips and ample bosom. It’s obvious that she’s just an ignorant boob, um, I mean hick.

    • Riiiiiiiiight.