How moderation got taken off the map

Maanantaina, 1. maaliskuuta 2010     5 kommentti(a)

The leader article in the past week’s Economist magazine asks “What’s gone wrong in Washington?” This is a fair question: Barack Obama, elected less than two years ago with, by US standards, a good majority and with his party also having a majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives has been unable to pass health care reform – his domestic policy priority. When the electorate in 2008 clearly voted for Democrats over Republicans, why is it the Democrats can not pass their flagship policy?

In part this is because of the odd procedures of the US Senate where the filibuster rule, that allows the minority to ‘talk out’ legislation stopping it from passing, has in recent decades made super-majorities necessary. 60 out of 100 senators need to vote in favour of (proposed) legislation in order to avoid the filibuster threat. With Republican Scott Brown recently having taken the seat previously held by Democrat Ted Kennedy, the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Before it was desirable to have some Republicans vote with them to show bipartisan support for legislation, now it is vital – but there is no bipartisan support. The House shows the same lack of willingness to find bipartisan solutions; Republican representatives who have co-sponsored legislation with Democrat colleagues have subsequently voted against their own initiatives, aware that if they vote with Democrats, this would be used against them by primary challenges when they stand to be reselected as their party’s candidate in their district. This is the dilemma facing moderate senators as well who do not want to be outflanked on their right in their own states.

What accounts for this polarization in Congress? Whilst the various states of the US have become increasingly polarised between Red and Blue, this isn’t the whole story. The issue of “re-districting” or gerrymandering also plays a central role. In many states, what constitutes an electoral district is not decided by a judge or some independent expert panel using census data, rather it is a political deal stitched up between the parties. This leads to ridiculously shaped electoral districts that have been mapped purely to encompass voters who favour one party over the other. This creates large numbers of very uncompetitive districts where only the representative of one party will ever win. Hence the political fight takes place within the parties over who gets to stand, and not between the parties. Within the parties, activists hold sway - be they special interest groups or simply just the most politicized and committed individuals, meaning the Democrats become ever more ‘liberal’ as Americans would say (i.e. left-leaning) and the Republicans pick ever more conservative candidates for their safe seats.

The result of this process seems to be legislative gridlock in Washington, and ever more disillusionment on the part of the electorate. Increasingly it looks as if the only possible way to get healthcare reform through the Congress would be for the Democrats to use the Reconciliation process in the Senate - a rarely used procedure that allows the passing of a bill with a simple majority. This procedure was used by the Bush administration to pass its early tax cuts, but using it destroys any claim to a bipartisan approach that Obama has struggled to find. Expect more partisanship and brutal politics as a result.

Kirjoitukset edustavat kirjoittajien henkilökohtaisia näkemyksiä.

Keskustelu (5 kommenttia)

4.3.2010, Kenneth Sikorski

Dear Mr.Archer

There are a few points I would like to draw to your attention to. You are absolutely correct in your observation concerning electoral districts. There are many of these districts that are entirely uncompetitive, I believe one that captures this mindset is the one district in N.Carolina, it's shaped like a long pencil with two blobs on either end just to make sure it elects an African American.

This kind of gerrymandering as you asy, ensures that the Dems and Repubs, who cut these deals, assures themselves safe seats. All-black districts and rich liberals and Jews = Dems district, middle class and lower middle class (gun-totin trailer parks) = Repubs district. It's one of those ugly side-effects from the civil rights era. So you're right, the current system is hideous. It guarantees incumbency, so that nothing changes until the entire system breaks down.

The solution is for the development of geographic districts, and not caring whether we elect blacks, hispanics, laotians, etc., but since the Democrats look at everything through the prism of group rights, and race, I doubt change will be in the immediate future, which is too bad, because there is a desperate need to abandon the stupid policies of political correctness and choose one man, one vote, and be colorblind in everything, but it won't happen before the system collapses, and people choose to move beyond race oriented group policies. (Namely the Dems).

For the current president to present himself as a bridge between this political dilemma, he has surely chosen to opt for the policies of the failed past, with Chicago-like politics (mean and ugly back room chicanery) being the hallmark of his administration, future generations will have to implement these badly needed changes.

Now, where health care is concerned, you ask "why is it the Democrats can not pass their flagship policy?" The reason being that most Americans were not familiar with the politics of the man they were voting in favor of, they believed him to be a moderate, transitional president, not the far-Left leaning socialist that he showing himself to be. Why people are up in arms over health care, hence the town hall outbursts and rallys, is that they were left clueless about a man the Main Stream Media failed to vet.

Thankfully the US Senate does in fact have the right to filibuster (which you oddly label ...odd) any legislation that comes its way, so nothing, especially something as far-reaching as this helath-care legislation, cannot be rammed through just because one party has a one person majority. I hope you're not in favor of raw democracy, because that would place you at odds with the US Founding Fathers, who built the US Constitution to safeguard the US Republic, not a democracy, because a democracy, especially one that's led by statists, leads to tyranny.

The "gridlock" you're referring to in Congress, is in fact a GOOD THING, for the US Consititution safeguards the people's right to protest any measure through their elected officials, to stall, say no, filibuster, drag their feet and hold on, until elections are held every two years to ensure a shift of balance in power. That's the fundamental difference between US and European parliamentary politics.

That there is deadlock, dissension, outright hostility between the Legislative, Judicial and Executive branches, is a healthy sign that the US Constitution is healthy and working. In the end, its the people's vote that decides what policy is correct, and will be corrected in the future, not elitist politicians. The reason why the media and electorate are not harping on the points I raise, is that they are largely ignorant of the US Consititution. Those who are ignorant of it, point to "gridlock" and battles between the three balances of power, as being something bad. It's not.

As for the Reconciliation Process, it's a method used by both sides of the political aisle, but never in such a case with such far reaching implications. The US President, while a Senator swore that health care would never be decided by such a meaure, well now we know that he lied, and on repeated occasions. You point to polarized/politicized, drawing the line in the sand politics as being bad. The US Constitution differs with your assessment. When the Republican Party was the party of NO during the slave years, being in stark opposition to the Democratic party, it was a good thing that they were.

With socialized health-care, the Democratic party, with Pres.Obama leading the charge, are seeking to fundamentally rearrange the relationship between the US citizen and the state, in a way never imagined by the US's Founding Fathers, and I believe if they were alive today, they would be the loudest voices in the room shouting for a filibuster and telling the people to get their politicians to drag their heels. That's the way the US system of government, resting upon the US Constitution (the greatest human document ever crafted) was designed.

5.3.2010, Toby Archer

The Constitution states that the House and Senate can set their own rules, it makes no mention of the filibuster. So the filibuster and the supermajority needed for cloture are political issues, not constitutional issues.

Before claiming that redistricting is a result of Democrats attachment to group rights, we could perhaps consider the Texas 2003 redistricting, pushed through by Republicans led by Tom Delay, before his fall from grace. The Supreme Court upheld the majority's right to redistrict most areas but stopped the redistricting of Texas-23 finding it to be racial gerrymandering. So it appears that both parties will seek to aggregate or disaggregate different groups according to their political interests.

5.3.2010, Kenneth Sikorski

1.) I never said that the filibuster option was mentioned in the Constitution, but that you considered it odd.

2.) I already stated that both parties use redistricting to favor their own consituency. So what's your point, you're just repeating points that I've already stated.

So, again, why do you think a filibuster to be odd, given the fact that it accomodates/compliments the framework of the US Constitution?

Also, why do you think the lack of bi-partisonship on a highly flawed, and hugely unpopular piece of such a bad thing?

8.3.2010, Toby Archer

I said the Senate has "odd procedures", please read "odd" as 'unusual' or 'interesting' if you prefer. Cloture, the filibuster, and the reconciliation of budgetary legislation are all interesting in that they differ from the simple idea of votes in which a simple majority passes or rejects a motion. Of course all democratic systems have their individual differences like this - but it just happens we are all learning about reconciliation and the history of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate currently.

I agree that gerrymandering is bipartisan my comment about DeLay was just in responses to your statement that "the Democrats look at everything through the prism of group rights, and race, I doubt change will be in the immediate future". DeLay in Texas was trying to change the balance of the House in Washington - so whatever reason it is done for - it is both sides that will resist change. It should be noted that some states already have non-political ways of drawing up electoral districts (expert panels, judges etc.), these could be looked at as possible models for the type of non-incumbent producing system that you suggest.

On the last point - Obama campaigned on wanting to bring in healthcare reform, it was his no. 1 domestic issue area. Everybody knew that is what he stood for, and Americans voted for him and a Democratic majority in the House and Senate in 2008. People heard his message and the majority voted for it. It is therefore interesting to ask why, in that case, he hasn't been able to pass it?

10.3.2010, Kenneth Sikorski

"People heard his message and the majority voted for it. It is therefore interesting to ask why, in that case, he hasn't been able to pass it?"

Obama beat McCain by 4 percentage points, as opposed to Bush beating Kerry by 3 in 2004, in both cases, the difference was minimal, and therefore did not constitute a mandate by any stretch of the imagination. That Obama "believes" that has a mandate, is an entirely different thing from actually having one, (I personally believe the man to be dellusional) especially one with such far over-reaching goals, like re-inventing the relationship between American citizens and their government.

Middle Americans are independent, they constitute the vast majority of the voters in the US. The reason why the big love affair with Obama and his meglomania is over, is that the US public have finally woken up to the reality, that they no longer recognize the man that they voted into office. I would dare to guess that many of those votes were not for solidarity with his vague platform, but to make history, being part of the moment when the US dared to elect an African American president.

You give Obama's campiagn platform far too much credit in "getting its real message out", in reality, his campaign message for the office of president, was all about his campaign for the office of president. Having never been properly vetted by the MSM, most Americans are waking up to that reality and want nothing to do with his socialist agenda to transform America into something resembling a European nanny state.

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