Generally speaking, there are two rules that apply to liberal propaganda passed off as “intellectual discussion.” The first is that although 70 – 80% of what is said can be easily debunked, the remainder 20 – 30% usually consists of a populist-tinged argument which typically requires a little more work for us to refute. The second, that liberal arguments are always disguised as something else – they can’t really say what they mean.
Well lo and behold if we don’t find a well-thought-out, relatively well-written article arguing a liberal position that actually flat out SAYS what they all MEAN, and that can be, hands down, refuted point-for-point, fact-for-fact, darn near line-for-line.
This is exactly what we have from Washington Post columnist and American Prospect editor-at-large Harold Meyerson. Did the Founding Fathers Screw Up? (even the title is a bold departure from the norm) is a substantial article published at prospect.org on September 26th which goes to great length to argue how the system of federalism (although Meyerson calls it a ‘presidential’ system – more on that later) set up by our Framers has sown the inevitable seeds of our what is now widely recognized by other progressives as our slow but defined decline.
My advance apologies to the reader as this diary post will be quite long. In fact, I’ve decided to break it into a Part 1 (published now), and a Part 2 (published in a day or so). I was reading the this article on my (waiting for endorsement deal with manufacturer so can insert brand name here) smartphone and thought that the best way to respond to this article would be to repost it section-by-section and respond accordingly. Just to give a brief summary, the article argues that our federal (presidential) system is inferior to the parliamentary system utilized in most other democracies. The bigotry, aristocratic nature, and unfounded paranoia of our Framers led them to create a system of government which inherently lends itself to the worst kind of bipartisan bickering and gridlock that makes the government unable to respond effectively to every want and need of the proletariat. (OK, I embellished the last seven words of that summary.) Below, indented in festive italics is posted exact cut-and-pasted segments of the article, with the refutation of each segment underneath in standard-formatted text. Any students of Constitutional development and founding Father philosophy should enjoy this, even given the considerable length.
ARTICLE & REFUTATION BEGIN HERE, PART 1:
Did the Founding Fathers Screw Up?
Gridlock in Washington is no accident. It’s built into the Constitution.
The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation,” Franklin Roosevelt declared as he campaigned for the presidency in the spring of 1932. “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”
Most of the experiments Roosevelt tried to rebuild the economy once he took office encountered fierce opposition. But his closing admonition—try something—transcends our political particularities. It’s an affirmation of a specifically American common sense, a statement of our national inclination to action, an affirmation of the pragmatism that remains the country’s signal contribution to philosophy. In times of trouble, try something. Who could be against that?
Interesting. In terms of government, something – anything – is better than nothing. So says Godfather of Big Government F.D. Roosevelt. Wait . . . I don’t think Mr. Roosevelt was around during the founding, or wrote any of the founding documents. Who did . . . who did . . . ? Oh yeah, Thomas Jefferson would be one. A BIG one. And Mr. Jefferson famously noted that, “The Government is best which governs least.” So my questfutation (my term for making a refutation with a question [copyright pending]) would be – Which statement is really consistent with the American character, and which is the deviation? For my money, I’ll go with Mr. Jefferson and most of the other classical liberal thinkers of the past 300 years. (Attention modern liberals – hold your ‘BUT HE OWNED SLAVES’ and other ‘race card’ comments for now. You’ll have a more appropriate time to use them later).
Yet, three years into the worst recession since Roosevelt’s time, a countercurrent, every bit as American as our bias for action, has swept over us. Twenty-five million Americans are either unemployed or underemployed, and the average duration of joblessness stands at record highs. Consumers are too deep in debt to consume; our producers produce and our investors invest abroad. To remedy all this, the federal government today tries … nothing.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaactually, the federal government has tried Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae, Mark-to-Market, Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, QE1, QE2 (stay tuned for QE3!), TARP bailouts, ARRA “Stimulus” (stay tuned for StimII), Nationalized Healthcare, and Union-owned automotive manufactures (GM Unions – congratulations on approving your new contracts written by your union bosses!). That’s actually a lot the federal government has tried. Plus a four-trillion deficit to boot! And thank goodness because . . . wait . . . oh yeah.
Washington has ground to a halt, paralyzed by a political division deeper than any we have seen since the days when Abraham Lincoln warned that a house divided against itself cannot stand. “Nothing” also isn’t doing much to commend the American way to other countries. Much of the developing world now sees China and its model of capitalist authoritarianism as more efficient than the creaky workings of democracy. Nations still marvel at the United States, but today, it’s our gridlock that draws the world’s wonder.
Interesting that even when we “grind to a halt,” which is really code for “since Republicans won the 2010 elections, we’re still able to pass debt-ceiling hikes, FAA/FEMA funding, and a host of other measures to keep the Leviathan fat and happy. Certainly all of those things are just as important as, oh, I don’t know, and argument that encompasses issues of America-past like human slavery (continue to hold race-card emails . . .), states rights, and competing economic systems. And China – yes, evidence that the world is now looking to “capitalist authoritarianism” is obvious given the huge problem they are having with illegal immigration. Wait, what? People aren’t climbing over the Great Wall? Particularly not pregnant mothers who may give birth to females? Interesting.
It shouldn’t. The current impasse between the Republican House and the Democratic president and Senate has only highlighted what is a chronic—indeed, constitutional—condition: Just as the American people have a bias for action, the American government has a bias for stasis. Governmental gridlock is as American as apple pie.
Yes, Mr. Meyerson, I will agree with you that the American people do have a bias for action. The American people have a bias for action from entrepreneurs, innovators, and inventors. This bias doesn’t extend to government intervention. In fact, if I remember my history correct, we dumped some Tea and protested a few other things that were a direct response to government action. Americans celebrate a lot of our qualities, but I’ve never seen a statue erected or painting dedicated to the “Spirit of Bureaucracy.” Remember the most feared words in the English language?
Those who defend our system concede—indeed, exult—that it places roadblocks in the path of major policy shifts. When the nation faces a genuine crisis, they argue, our government invariably rises to the occasion, as it did in Roosevelt’s time. Unfortunately, that’s a selective reading of our history. One hundred and fifty years ago, our government was not up to the task of holding the union together. Today, as the Great Recession grinds on, the different branches of government cannot agree on a course of action.
So the examples given here of America not “rising to the occasion” are the Civil War, and our current recession. Just so my liberal friends are clear, “recession” and “succession” are not things that are similar, even though they do rhyme. Mr. Meyerson offers the concession (also something that rhymes but isn’t similar) that America came together during the Great Depression to “do something.” The same is true during both World Wars, many other financial crises, conflicts, civil liberties and civil rights (keep holding race cards. . .). And as previously stated, the government has bi-partisanly done PLENTY to both cause and try to alleviate this current recession. That leaves the great failing of the American federal system to “rise to the occasion” being the Civil War, which is just preposterous. The underlying assumption here is that a compromise could have been crafted by all political concerns which would have saved the Union without going to war. Too bad both sides couldn’t reach a compromisethat would have done this. Yes, certainly a compromise, were it not for our crippled political system, could have saved the union, and averted war (and perpetuated slavery).
The root cause of all this inactivity is our peculiar form of democracy. While most democracies are governed by parliamentary systems, our Founders opted for a presidential system, which they consciously booby-trapped with multiple veto points to impede decisive legislative action and sweeping social change.
In America, for instance, presidents take office, but they don’t form a government, as prime ministers do in virtually every other democracy. Presidents can form no more than an executive branch. They appoint cabinet members, sub-cabinet officials, military commanders, ambassadors, and the heads of regulatory agencies. They don’t appoint congressional leaders; often as not, their party may not control either or both houses of Congress. Indeed, the White House, the Senate, and the House have been controlled by the same party during just 8 of the past 30 years. Even when the same party holds Congress and the presidency, the system still fragments power.
Here Mr. Meyerson, and please correct me if I’m wrong, seems to be pining for power concentrated in the hands of one individual, or at least funneled into one, majority-winning party. Don’t get me wrong, this is perfectly fine-and-dandy, if you don’t care about observing that whole “rule of law” thing. I mean, Germany had a great democracy going in the 1920’s in which the leading party formed the government and basically controlled the government, and nothing terrible, horrible, holocausticist, or near-civilization-ending happened there, right? Hyperbole aside, the system described here by Mr. Meyerson basically makes constitutional adherence obsolete. With the kinds of parliamentary systems referenced, the law is, basically, whatever the ruling party decides to recognize. Don’t get me wrong, this is GREAT when you’re on the side of ruling party. Not-so-great otherwise. (NOTE: A plurality of Americans describe their political beliefs as ‘conservative’).
Presidents and congresses are elected not merely independently but at different times and by different electorates. After a midterm election in the United States, no members of the House and only one-third of the senators hold their seats by virtue of having won them in the same election that brought the president to power. The president and the Congress each have separate but equal claims to power and legitimacy. Thus a government divided between a president of one party and a Congress of another, political scientist Juan Linz observes, can reach an impasse for which “there is no democratic principle on the basis of which it can be resolved.”
“. . . no democratic principle on the basis of which it can be resolved.” A true statement unless you count the guidelines established by that little thing we call THE CONSTITUTION. I know, that whole “Rule of Law” thing again.
That’s all for Part 1 tonight. The conclusion and Part 2 to be published tomorrow. Here’s a preview – It begins with an argument of how our “presidential” system is more prone to military coups than parliamentary ones. Hopefully Oliver Cromwell’s ghost will answer my request to be a guest commentator.
NOTE TO LIBERALS – Please continue to hold those slavery/race card emails. I PROMISE you’ll have occasion to use them in Part 2.
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