Last week I went to a talk by Larry Kramer, a lawyer at the Madison Initiative – a subsidiary of sorts of the Hewlett Foundation. I struggled with his balanced assessment of blame regarding the dysfunction of Congress so I wrote him this letter as a retort:
The Problem: Congressional Dysfunction
The Madison Initiative: The objective is to find solutions to congressional dysfunction so that government works as it should for the benefit the country as a whole. You argue that unwillingness to compromise has spread evenly throughout both parties and therefore we cannot blame either party for this dysfunction.
This is a false assumption/belief.
If we can show that one party has moved significantly away from its traditional position in the political spectrum, then it naturally follows that both parties will become unwilling to compromise. For example, if the Democratic Party becomes a Marxist party, it will dig in and only accept legislation that promotes or advances its new radical ideology. Similarly, the Republican Party will find this new agenda to be completely unacceptable, so it too will try to veto every Democratic initiative. The fact that both have become intransigent is not a sign that both are equally to blame. One has completely stepped away from representing the American people and so it is solely to blame.
The Republican Party over the last 30 years has become dominated by media ideologues. The Democratic Party has no equivalent set of influencers. There is no one on the left as extreme as Michael Savage or Rush Limbaugh on the right. It is an easy task to show that the Republicans have moved to the right in lockstep with the demands of their entertainers (http://wapo.st/2kUj5mK). The Democrats have responded appropriately with intransigence.
This means we have a new task. If we are to improve functionality, then we must make sure that congressional representatives are voted in that represent the views of the population [more or less). The problem with a radical party is that it may pass laws that are completely out of sync with the beliefs of the country (See NSDAP in Germany) even, or especially when, they are elected in disproportionately large numbers.
- The Democratic Party could finance a more extreme left wing [radio or Internet] media program to energize its own base. This may help offset the influence of “hate” radio.
- A legal battle must be made to eliminate Gerrymandering at all levels of government. Proportionality is critical to any democracy. (I shall dodge Hamilton’s apprehension about mob power.)
- Term limits must be enacted. This will prevent old and famous politicians from gathering too much power.
The intransigence of Democrats during the Bush II years was an appropriate response to a government that was engaged in radical policies. One would expect and demand such inflexibility from the opposition. It does not prove that Democrats are equally responsible for dysfunction unless you can show that Bush’s wars, support for torture and warrantless wiretapping (to name 3 easy cases) were well reasoned and consistent with American values.
Greater proportional representation may not prevent stalemates. These will still occur when no significant polarization exists on a specific issue in the voting population. The goal must be to prevent majority power accruing to a radicalized few – that is far worse than dysfunction.
History is replete with examples.