17.11.14

OVERREACH IS GOOD

In my lifetime, midterm elections have significantly changed the makeup of the House or the Senate.  Let's consider a few.

1974:  Joe Biden elected to the Senate, and a number of the Democrats who took office that year remain in the leadership today.  At the time, the pundit class interpreted the Democrat wave as a repudiation of Richard Nixon, who had stepped down in the aftermath of Watergate, despite an electoral wipeout of George McGovern in 1972.

1986:  Rumbles of the Iran-Contra deal, and worries about rising national debt leads to Democrats regaining a Senate majority.  I believe the 1986 tax code reform predated that election.

1994:  Republican "Contract with America" might have prompted President Clinton to triangulate, thereby permanently antagonizing the True Believers in the Democrat left.

2002:  Would President Bush have gone forward with regime change in Iraq without a larger majority in the House?

2006:  The same President Bush describes the outcome as a "thumping".  Democrats secure majorities in both House and Senate.  It will be up to future researchers to determine whether fears of a less-incrementalist legislative agenda or lax monetary policy, or wishful thinking crashed the economy late in 2007.

2014:  Republicans add to their House majority and establish a substantial majority in the Senate.

Perhaps in anticipation of that outcome, two New York Times columnists proposed to eliminate midterm elections.
The main impact of the midterm election in the modern era has been to weaken the president, the only government official (other than the powerless vice president) elected by the entire nation. Since the end of World War II, the president’s party has on average lost 25 seats in the House and about 4 in the Senate as a result of the midterms. This is a bipartisan phenomenon — Democratic presidents have lost an average of 31 House seats and between 4 to 5 Senate seats in midterms; Republican presidents have lost 20 and 3 seats, respectively.
What is the unstated premise: presidents never get their programs wrong?

Rush Limbaugh smells the blood in the water. It takes a partisan to sniff out a partisan.
They claim, for example, that since World War II, the midterm elections have made presidents weaker.  The midterm elections are one of the reasons why we can't have a great president anymore because in the midterm elections the president's party always loses, except 2002 when Bush's party won.  They would never suggest this if a Republican president were gonna lose, what, enough seats to lose control of the Senate.

And lose 70 seats in the House total in two years or whatever. They'd never suggest this under a Republican. No, no, no! (chuckling)  Let's make these midterms one year instead of two! It's so transparent.  It's so patently obvious.  "Cancel the Midterms." The Constitution is screwed up. The Constitution's a mistake. We need to limit the access to their representatives the American people have.

We let them vote too often for their representatives.  The people are stupid.  The people are dunces.  The people are dense.  The people are glittering idiots.  We have to protect Washington from the people -- and, therefore, we need to limit the number of times people can elect their representatives.  So we need to expand House terms to four years instead of two in order to save failing, incompetent Democrat presidents.
That concluding paragraph is precious, coming as it did before Jonathan "Uninformed Voters" Gruber's remarks came to light.  At National Review, Charles Cooke, anticipating "sour grapes" from the losing side, reminds readers that governance, American style, is separation of powers.
In America, political powers are separated on purpose. The House, the Senate, and the president all enjoy equally legitimate — if sometimes contradictory — mandates from the people. No single person or entity enjoys “control” of the country, nor should they. In consequence, if Obama were to veto everything that was put on his desk by a Republican Congress, he should not expect to be termed a wrecker but instead to be regarded as a man who is using the powers that he has been accorded to get as much of what he can out of the system.

Likewise, if the House or the Senate — or the House and the Senate, as may soon be the case — were to refuse to acquiesce to the president’s agenda, that is their right, too. Contrary to the repeated complaints of our progressive friends lo these last four years, divided government is not inevitably “bad government,” nor is each branch’s electing to dig in its heels in any way “unacceptable” or “extreme.” Instead, it is the system working as it was intended to work: slowly, surely, and with its power fractured and divided by design.
I fear I'm going to have to repeat, tyrannical government is effective government.  But good-government (more accurately, activist-government) types are likely to continue to push the Get Things Done, Presidential Activism inanities.
“Cancel the Midterms” is in tune with contemporary political speech that redefines “checks and balances” as “gridlock,” prejudices any attempts to rein in state power, and denies the existence of arguments against what Schanzer and Sullivan call “the ability of their government to address pressing concerns.” But the piece does provide a useful glimpse at how little regard contemporary political science has for the basics of representative democracy.
Writing after the election, George Neumayr takes a dimmer view of what Accomplishing the Presidential Agenda is about.
Obama still sees himself as the popular dictator for whom constitutional checks and balances are nothing more than antiquated quibbles. For the good of voters, nonvoters, and foreigners, he feels entitled to disregard existing laws. Illegal immigrants are evidently part of the silent majority prodding him to buck Congress.

Democracy has always been an annoyance to him. His advisers now even brag about their circumventions of it, with one recently chalking up passage of Obamacare to a lack of transparency about the bill. It is fitting that such an undemocratic president finds himself reduced to seeking his mandate from those who don’t vote.
I'm waiting for Our President to announce that he's the Decider, or to say, "Make no mistake about it, I am the president."

For additional analysis, check Betsy Newmark and visit the links she provides.  But read and understand this.
The Founding Fathers were just so misguided in trying to devise a system that would give voters opportunities to weigh in on what our representatives do. They created a system that checks the power of the president and Congress. But there is that progressive strain among liberals who find the Constitution a pesky detail interfering with their desires to expand government power. And gridlock is frustrating that desire. So let's take the people out of it because we wouldn't want to have politicians have to worry about what their constituents might think of what they do.

Midterms have not been meaningless in the past. Think of the changes resulting from 1994, 2006, and 2010 that saw power shift from one party to another. Under the system proposed by Schanzer and Sullivan [the bilious bastards who wrote that stuff for the New York Times] would have left the public frustrated and unable to express their dismay at the current leadership.
A leadership that, particularly on the Democratic side, is full of people with 40 years of experience clinging to the governing paradigms of 100 years ago.

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