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.