We All Want What’s Best

1st-place-ribbonEzra Klein surveys the political landscape and offers a bold assessment:

At this point, structural reform of the legislative system should, I think, be the main priority for people left, right, and center who want to see action on the problems facing the country. It’s all well and good to try to get the best outcomes possible given the existing constraints. But if those outcomes aren’t good enough, then at some point you have to turn your attention away from the problems and toward the constraints that are keeping you from solving them.

A wee obstacle to this — aside, ironically enough, from the institutions themselves making changing said institutions ridiculously difficult — is that, while we all “want to see action on the problems facing the country” there’s precious little agreement as to what those problems are, much less on “the best outcomes possible.”

Interestingly, the fact that this was the case circa 1789 explains why the people who wrote the Constitution — some of whom, reportedly, were not complete idiots — set up a system making it very hard for the federal government to do things on which there was not widespread consensus.  Granted, the filibuster and other legislative rules piled on top of the Constitutional checks and balances make things even tougher.  But I’m not sure that’s generally a bad thing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    The key to reform lies in the founding structure, namely checks and balances. Identify what aspect doesn’t have a check in place and structure the reform around that.

    For me, the key missing check is for the tax payers who will have to pay for all the goodies both parties want to hand out. So a constitutional change that would have each state would have two senators elected by the tax payers of the state (for every dollar in tax you pay, you get one vote, minimum one vote per person). Then when the house wants to hand out goodies on the tax payers dime, the senate will have a natural inclination to ask is this really necessary.

    Have the top 20% of tax payers pay 67.2% of the taxes and they are going to have a large say in who will be the senator. Spread the tax burden a little broader and maybe the ‘free lunches’ won’t seem so free.

  2. Mr Evilwrench says:

    I have long suggested to structure the government in such a way that the taxpayer (producer) have a greater stake in the outcome of elections. Perhaps this Senate-only idea has merit.

  3. sam says:

    Great ideas, guys. Plutocracy R Us–that’s a slogan we can all get behind.

  4. Pete says:

    Maybe if you geniuses would study the Fair Tax, you might find some compelling solutions

  5. steve says:

    The filibuster has gotten out of hand. You need to use reconciliation (see Bush tax cuts, remembering that earmarks peaked under Bush II) or buy off Senators 50 through 60 on major bills. Maybe things would work better if they worked like the founders expected. They assumed that the Congress would jealously hold its own privileges against the POTUS. However, party affiliation now rules the day. Way too much power is invested in the POTUS. I am not really sure how we get out of this. Maybe allow only 5 filibusters per year?

    Steve

  6. Dodd says:

    We’re not exactly breaking new ground here. The left loves checks and balances when they’re out of power. And seeks to dilute restraints on their exercise of it when they’re in.

    They have lots of voters in the heavily populated coastal states, so they want to abolish the EC. The filibuster no longer serves their purposes, they immediately switch from defending it to wanting to get rid of it. The current order requires them to actually compromise and find solutions a broad spectrum of political POVs representing the whole breadth of the American polity, they don’t conclude that their ideas are too extreme and they’re overreaching – it’s that the system is at fault.

    You can tell when one of these things is being proposed because it always starts with an imprecation about solving “the problems facing the country.” What follows never, ever conforms to how anyone center or right would resolve the issue.

    Yes, the right is hardly guiltless. We all know that. But, as a normative manner, the right has more reverence for the existing structure whereas the left, more or less by definition, seeks to reformulate it.

  7. An Interested Party says:

    The left loves checks and balances when they’re out of power. And seeks to dilute restraints on their exercise of it when they’re in.

    As if the right doesn’t do the exact same thing…neither side has a monopoly on this sort of behavior…

  8. I think I’d rather have a parliament, and less personality politics.

  9. Boyd says:

    …structural reform of the legislative system should, I think, be the main priority for people left, right, and center who want to see action on the problems facing the country.

    I think Ezra missed it here (but that’s not too surprising, I suppose). There’s a significant number of people who want to see Congress stop taking action on the problems facing the country, for two reasons. First, it’s not the job of government to act on virtually all of these problems; and B, when Congress acts, they usually screw up.

  10. Joe R. says:

    I think Ezra missed it here (but that’s not too surprising, I suppose). There’s a significant number of people who want to see Congress stop taking action on the problems facing the country, for two reasons. First, it’s not the job of government to act on virtually all of these problems; and B, when Congress acts, they usually screw up.

    As the resident an-cap, I would like to heartily endorse this entire sentiment. I do not want to see anything that makes it easier for Congress to steal liberty from the American people. I also endorse the notion that it’s not surprising Ezra missed it.