Sunday, March 14, 2010

Couldn't resist

Yes, I know I said I wouldn’t be blogging but I couldn’t resist saying something about this; the post saying it is quick and easy to write; and I’m feeling quite snippy today so this is a good outlet.

Today on Meet The Press, Tom Friedman said:

Well, this is what worries me, that, you know, I've been saying for awhile, Tom [Brokaw], there's only one thing worse than a one-party autocracy, the Chinese form of government, and that's one-party democracy. You know, in China, if the leadership can get around to an enlightened decision, it can order it from the top down, OK? Here, when you have one-party democracy, one-party ruling, basically, and the other party just basically saying no, every solution is suboptimal, you know. And when your chief competitor in the world can order optimal and you can only produce suboptimal, because what happens, you know, whether it's health care or the energy bill, votes one through 50 cost you a lot, votes 50 to 59 cost you a fortune, and vote 60, his name's Ben Nelson. And by the time you've made all those compromises, you end up with the description David had of the healthcare bill, which is this Rube Goldberg contraption. I really hope--I hope, personally, I hope it passes, I hope it works, but I can't tell you I think it's optimal.

Friedman is sort of half right although his passion for all things China has blinded him to the real issue here. It’s not that democracy is unworkable because we have one party ruling and one party saying no. The problem is more likely one of the following:

1) The more government does, the less well democracy works. This means we either need to make government do less or change our form of government.

2) Democracy does not work well when there are two sharply opposed views of what government should be doing and how it should be doing it. This means we either need to divide up the country or change our form of government.

These two possibilities are not mutually exclusive and I believe that at this point they’re actually mutually reinforcing. We do have two sharply opposed views of what government should be doing and how it should be doing it. Since one of those views is that government should be doing a lot less it automatically means that the more one side tries to get government to do the less co-operative the other side becomes.

So perhaps the solution is to divide up the country. One side gets a nation where government does a lot; the trade-off is that they have a less democratic form of government so “optimal” solutions can be imposed by wise technocrats. The other side gets a nation where government doesn’t do much; the trade-off is that they get a stronger democracy under which people and parties can disagree sharply without worrying about derailing an “enlightened decision”.



How weird was the last segment of Meet The Press this morning? Tom Brokaw and Tom Friedman chit-chatting about their weekend talks and their train trips while poor David Brooks must have felt like the class nerd who ended up at the table with all the cool kids.

Yes, I know Friedman is complaining about the Republicans saying no at the same time he’s bemoaning the horse-trading the Democrat leadership had to do with other Democrats to get that 60th vote. So he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Big surprise.

No, the two opposing sides are not the Democrats and the Republicans. Both parties want the government to do more, get bigger, spend more money, etc., although perhaps in slightly different ways. The two opposing sides are the entrenched political parties and the people who are sick of both of them. It looks like we have a struggle between the Democrats and the Republicans because the Republicans are hoping to regain control of Congress by pretending to side with those who simply want government to stop trying to do everything.

Yes, I know we have a representative democracy not a straight democracy.

No, I don’t think talking about splitting up the country is treason. I don’t think talking about a State seceding is treason either. Provided the country as whole agreed this sort of thing was the correct course of action and it happened peacefully and through some legal process, I don’t see any Constitutional problem with it.


Grim said...

A third option is that we do what the Tenth Amendment says: we let the states do the stuff that isn't actually enumerated powers of the Federal government.

Then, the parts of the country that want an activist government can have it; and the parts that don't, need not. And we don't have to divide up the country, or have a civil war over it.

Elise said...

Maybe it's just because the time change always makes me cranky for a week or so but at this point I think it would be easier to split up the country than to get power devolved back to the States. I posted a while back on Reclusive Leftist being upset (to put it mildly) at the idea of letting States opt out of some aspect of health care reform, believing that such an opt-out provision meant people in red states don’t have rights. I’m pretty sure her viewpoint is rampant among those who want the government to do much, much more so I don’t think one would have any more luck pumping life into the Tenth Amendment than one would getting the Do More types to back off.

Furthermore, I don’t think the putatively Do Less Republicans are any more interested in the Tenth Amendment than the Do More types. At the national level they like having largesse to distribute; at the State level they like getting Federal money. I do not know if it is still the case but in the not too far distant past, the States that got more Federal money than they paid in tended to be States that voted Republican in national elections.

It may be the case that those who want the government to Do Less could assume firm enough control of a State to really push the Tenth Amendment argument but it hasn’t happened so far.

As for Civil War, unless the Federal government or my State government passes legislation that treats women like chattel, count me out. Anything short of that, I’d prefer to muddle through - which is, after all, much of what democracy is all about, another point Friedman somehow missed in his education. That’s why I was so careful to specify the country agreeing and a legal process.

Grim said...

Well, remember that the last time around, plenty of the Confederates thought they'd be dissolving the union without violence. There was a lawful process, involving 13 of the

But while they were gathered in Alabama, writing a new constitution, there was the small matter of firebrands in South Carolina agitating for war; and a firebrand in Washington who decided to move on the armories in the states, forcing the issue of war.

If we go that road, you may find a war whether you want one or not. But be of good cheer; it won't be 'reducing women to chattel' that anyone wants to fight for. Yet I doubt you'd have the luxury of sitting it out; war is rarely so discriminating, as you must realize.

Still, it seems to be the road people want. I was talking to my father the other day, and he said -- kindest of men, least ready to fight for no cause -- that he hoped that we might put things right once the government fell apart and the war came. I hope that is not how it must be.

Elise said...

Well, I was going to write a horrified, thoughtful, more in sadness than in dismay post about civil war. I thought I'd probably look at the ratio of casualties to population in the 1860s conflict and extrapolate how many casualties we'd be looking at if we went down that road again.

Then I decided to just link to DtP. Answers 1 and 2 are particularly on point.