opposition as governance
“My hunch is that the Times’ editors see Friedman aiming the gun at his foot, but watching a man stupid enough to actually pull the trigger is so fun they hate to intervene. That or they’re trying to explode the myth of American meritocracy.” ~ Will Wilkinson
Perhaps Wilkinson is being too harsh. Lately, though, I tend to agree. Friedman is so certain that his vision is correct. His pining for autocracy over “one-party democracy” is eerily reminiscent of Bush’s infamous line – “a dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier” – and perhaps in Friedman (and “traitors-to-the-earth” Paul Krugman) we begin to see in the left the same insidious intellectual cancer that has so consumed the right. Yes, if only we had China’s “reasonably enlightened” leaders instead of the ones we have. Scrap that lousy “Constitution” while you’re at it.
Friedman bemoans the opposition of Republicans who, for reasons purely incomprehensible, oppose the “centrist” policies of President Obama. Simply because one can speak and sound reasonable does not make one a centrist, and the President, for all his talk, is anything but – he’s a pragmatist and he knows that some level of bipartisanship, even the illusion of bipartisanship, is valuable. As is a filibuster-proof supermajority. But he’s no centrist. Those vile heathen Blue Dog Democrats are centrists.
I suppose, to Friedman, centrism means endless compromises in which the opposition continually takes the raw half of the deal. While I am not particularly fond of thoughtless obstructionism on issues as vital as entitlement reform (which is the hinge upon which all this health care policy revolves) I can’t quite follow Friedman’s logic that by opposing big government programs we have somehow created a one party democracy.
Earlier, Jamelle wrote:
[F]or those interested in governing – at least on the national level – the Democratic Party really is the only game in town, as the conservative movement’s staunchly anti-government approach has left us with a Republican Party as hyper-ideological as it is lacking in policy expertise. But because our political institutions are designed around consensus, this makes it incredibly difficult for a single party – even one with clear majority support – to make an enact policy, as consensus requires a good-faith governing partner, which the Democrats simply don’t have.
I wonder what is meant by “govern” here. Is it the enactment of new programs, the hammering out of new policies and new measures – and the adequate funding of all of this? Could governing not also be the act of maintaining what currently exists, and of resisting rapid change – of choosing instead to retool or incrementally rework what we have and make it function better? Could governing even sometimes mean the repealing of programs or laws that currently exist, whether these are discriminatory laws or even entire departments of the federal government? These are really just two opposing philosophies of governance. Opposition to cap and trade, for instance does not mean one is opposed to governing. Perhaps one simply believes that a more limited government can better achieve the most important goals.
There are plenty of bad-faith arguments being floated by opponents of Obamacare these days. I prefer an honest debate, myself. But at the end of the day, that honest debate will likely lead to the exact same place – a place not of consensus but of opposition to most big government reforms that liberals want to see enacted. Those bipartisan gems like Wyden-Bennett have plenty of detractors to the left and the right.
Yes, I would like to see some consensus formed on health care because I think the status quo is unsustainable, and Republicans need to work with Democrats on this issue if only because it’s a perfect avenue to reform Medicare and to yes, be a party that doesn’t simply say “no” but also works to bring market reforms to the business of safety nets. Medicare, ironically, is exactly where the most absurd bad faith arguments on the right are now focusing. In this sense I share Jamelle’s frustration.
However, compromise is not interchangeable with “good-faith governing partner” and there are times when good-faith really boils down to principled opposition. That market-oriented politicians should have to swallow whatever watered-down government program the Democrats sell them is absurd.
And last, but not least, it is important to note that legislation should be difficult to pass. Efficient government is not the same thing as easily or quickly passed legislation. Indeed, Democrats are not the “only ones playing.” Part of any game – whether its politics or basketball – is defense. If this really were a one party democracy there would be no game to speak of.