Friday, April 30, 2010

"But That Could Hurt Us In The Next Election"

One of the key features of democratically elected government is also one of the key faults - politicians face reelection. Thus, we suffer through year after year of postponement of the difficult issues to legislate, with the most likely consequences being that problems become more difficult to solve, that we reach a crisis point that forces change (given Republican opposition to even tepid financial industry regulation, one must wonder how big a crisis that must now be for Congress to act responsibly), or both.

As a consequence, even after the passage of (tepid) healthcare reform, we have people who should know better arguing that the Democrats should have abandoned that effort when it became clear that the going was tough... That the Democratic Party " have pursued that until the economy was moving in the right direction". Michael Tomasky admits that, once the Democrats embarked on that journey, "losing healthcare would have meant political death", but seems to believe that the lesson to be learned is that you should not even attempt to fight the difficult fights unless the success and popularity of your efforts are guaranteed - which would never have been the case with a healthcare reform bill.

The primary impediments to the passage of healthcare reform, up to Scott Brown's election, were internal. They were hobbled by a self-serving "independent" as well as party members intent upon lining their own pockets (future jobs, or money directed to family members), filling their campaign coffers, pandering, the contingent of moderate Republicans who were elected as Democratic "blue dogs", people paralyzed by political cowardice, a handful of people who are out of their depths as Members of Congress, a faction that felt it for some reason urgent to act in a bipartisan fashion thereby empowering the opposition party's stated goal of defeating the bill and damaging the President... categories that aren't mutually exclusive. The paralysis was self-inflicted. And yes, that level of paralysis made it appear that Congress is capable of addressing only one or two issues at a time. But that's simply not the case.

Had the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate chosen to do so, they could have agreed that they were going to be the most efficient, effective, forward-looking Congress in our nation's history. A one year covenant to set aside all of the impediments to progress I previously listed (to the extent possible, considering the Dunning-Kruger effect), where they worked hard to put together and pass legislative packages on a series of tough issues. Some would be popular, others unpopular, and some would not inspire much reaction; and then, one year later, they could revert to their unfortunate prior form to prepare for the November election. Alas, it's like that "joke" about the scorpion who stings the frog who is transporting him across a river, even though he knows he'll drown. For the Members of Congress who weren't prepared to be part of such a concerted solution, which is to say "most of them", their own personal success, fortune, and interests are what matter, even if the choices they make will drag down the party. A similar effect is presently manifesting itself in the opposition party - do and say whatever it takes to win the next election, even if it causes long-term damage to the party and its ability to govern.

The price of a huge, public display of inability to govern, sausage-making, and a reluctance to tackle hard issues? That's why Congress has perennially low approval ratings. I can't guarantee that a Congress that had the courage to act as I suggest would reap rewards at the polls, but I nonetheless suspect that if Congress demonstrated a year of efficiency and leadership, and tackled some of the tough issues that they prefer to let stagnate, they wouldn't have much to worry about in the coming election.

Simply put, I reject the notion that Congress should run away with issues because they're hard. A quote from another time, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

1 comment:

  1. Does Tomasky imagine that a serious stimulus bill could have passed in the environment he endorses? I counter that if the same fake issues weren't going to be raised in opposition to the bill as were raised in response to the first stimulus bill, it would have happened.

    You'll find a considerable number of Republican politicians claiming credit for bringing money and jobs to their constituents (without mentioning that it came from the stimulus bill or that they voted against it) while arguing that the stimulus bill didn't work. It's the same thing John Boehner's now trying with healthcare reform - a month ago there was not one good idea in the bill, and now he claims there are a bunch of them and that they all came from Republicans. P a t h e t i c.

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