Brad DeLong Asks: Is American Democracy Broken?

It’s an intriguing question and he offers insights based on his experiences in DC during the 1990s.

And so things that we in the Bentsen Treasury all expected to happen, did not happen. We had expected that sometime between January and June 1994 Lloyd Bentsen’s chief healthcare aide would sit down with Bob Dole’s chief healthcare aide. We had expected that they would hammer out a deal, so that people in the future would never be as dependent on on charity for their healthcare as Bob Dole was when he returned injured from World War II.

That meeting never happened. Bob Dole decided he would rather join Gingrich to try to portray Clinton as a failure. So Bob Dole never got a legislative accomplishment. Instead, he got to lose a presidential election. And I today remember Bob Dole not as the co-architect of health care reform in 1994, but as somebody who denounced Roosevelt and Truman for getting us into those Democrat wars that saved Europe from the Nazis, China and the rest of Asia from Imperial Japan (and that have allowed South Koreans to grow five inches taller than their North Korean cousins).

As my friend Mark Schmitt wrote in his review of Geoffrey Kabaservice’s book about the moderate Republicans, Rule and Ruin, the moderate Republicans were partisan Republicans first and Americans second. [snip]

So what’s up?

What’s going on?

I look around and I see a number of things:

  • I see a press corps that is unconcerned with policy substance and the future of America and devotes itself to calling politics like a basketball game: “who wins the week?” “who wins the day?” Lately it’s been: “who wins the morning?”
  • An electorate that in my fears appears to want to be led by a strong or a competent leader–or rather by a leader whom the press corps tells it wins lots of mornings–and that does not want to see its policy preferences actually enacted and satisfied, or that does not know what its policy preferences are.
  • Multiple blockage points in our outdated eighteenth-century orrery of a political system that froze the distribution of power between President, Senate, and House where the distribution of power between King George III, Lords, and Commons had been in 1776–and thus that makes it easy to block things, and hence very easy to portray a president of the other party as a hapless failure.
  • A recognition that if you make blocking everything the president of the other party does your highest priority, you do have a good chance of portraying him as a weakling and doing well in the next election cycle.
  • 1994 and 2010 demonstrate that this nihilistic, anti-patriotic, un-American strategy works.
  • Democratic barons–cough, Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson, cough–who remind me of Wile E. Coyote standing in the desert after the Roadrunner has dropped a 500 ton weight from above: frozen and watching in place as the shadow covering him grows larger. Simply put, they do not understand that when they face the electorates of Nebraska and Arkansas, saying “but I helped block Obama from doing liberal things!” is not a strategy that wins them reelection. But “I backed the president, and the president did X, Y and Z, and look at how much better things are” might well be.
  • On top of all these, everybody below the top 5% of the American income distribution today is not living any better than their predecessors did a generation ago. We all have lots of cheap electronic toys (I love mine). But offsetting that we have more congestion, longer commutes, and more expensive houses. For the top 5% things are better. For the rest of America, it looks as though they may well not be.
  • Right now, for every 13 workers in America, we have one person who would be working in normal times–who was working back in 2007–and who now is not working. That means that two-thirds of American households today have one or more people in their or their parents’ or their siblings’ or their childrens’ households who would be working in normal times and is not working now. At the moment more people still think that this is George W. Bush’s fault than think that it is Barack Obama’s. But everyone agrees it is the governments fault somehow–although they are not sure how.

DeLong, like many liberals, has been frustrated with the Democratic party’s chasing of compromise with people who have no interest in actual compromise.  It’s been a fiasco from day one and continues to be a fiasco.  In the comment sections, some of DeLong’s commenters make the point that much that is wrong in our government could be fixed if the media actually did their job – you know reporting on news rather than acting like a bunch of wannabes hoping the cool kids will make nice.

  1. #1 by brewski on May 16, 2012 - 9:40 pm

    Democracy in America ended on On October 23, 1987, quite a bit before the Bob Dole story.

  2. #2 by cav on May 16, 2012 - 10:23 pm

    Grant County Oregon Daylight Fireball of October 23, 1987 ?

    It came from out of nowhere, unlike other things one could mention – causes of which were probably in the greed league.

  3. #3 by Ken on May 17, 2012 - 6:54 am

    The only reason are system is broken because we are no longer following Constitutional principles.

    • #4 by Glenden Brown on May 17, 2012 - 7:14 am

      Ken – by Constitutional principles do you mean denying the vote to women, counting black people as 3/5s of a person, limiting the vote to white men who own land? Maybe you mean permitting slavery?

  4. #5 by cav on May 17, 2012 - 7:15 am

    No doubt some congressional investigation will learn that, while the breakage was unfortunate, there’s nothing anyone could have done – or could do to prevent this sort of thing in the future. The FBI and Justice Department will discover that no laws were broken.

    And then we’ll get back to the painful business of making bricklayers work until they’re 70.

  5. #6 by cav on May 17, 2012 - 7:25 am

    We’re either back to ‘Second Amendment Solutions’ which I hope can be minimized, or ALL those disaffected by the shoddy treatment of the Constitution, both left and right (owning that it was their boy who did so much damage to it) start finding some commonality and legally, non-violently if possible, yet forcefully dislodging the usurpers of whatever stripe.

  6. #7 by cav on May 17, 2012 - 7:27 am

    Even ‘slippery-slopes’ eventually come to an end.

  7. #8 by cav on May 17, 2012 - 7:42 am

    Besides it’s not broken – winners simply weighed their options and chose their actions:

    Re One Percenters — The one gal who resigned from JSMorgan was paid $15 million in both 2010 and 2011. I understand she has left with severance and health insurance, plus unused time off totaling another $15 million. So, in three years she has made $45 million. Even if she has to do a few years in Club Fed, she may consider the tradeoff worth it. There are rumors that the ‘Whale Fail’ earned something like $100 million in 2011. No one is confirming, or denying for that matter. Again, a couple of years in a federal, minimum security prison might be worth it to him.

    Seriously. And it would be wrong for us to tax the incomes of those Galtian job creators.

  8. #9 by brewski on May 17, 2012 - 9:13 am

    Glenden, I think it is fair to say that Ken means the constitution as it is currently amended. The constitution can and has been amended several times. It was anticipated and provided for.

    According to the New York Times, it all started on October 23, 1987. That was the day ugly partisanship started:

  9. #10 by cav on May 17, 2012 - 1:40 pm

    So many things are borked beyond easy repair.

    Sunday is also the first anniversary of the Great End-of-The-World according to prophet Camping. Those of us still blogging are, presumably not ‘of the chosen fold and ascended.

    Franky, I’m pissed about that,

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