Lord, What Fools These Moralists Be


James Hanley

James Hanley is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.

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15 Responses

  1. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Feel their pain? Maybe give up Congress’s healthcare coverage, let them earn minimum wage, and spend greater amounts of their time actually living in their districts.Report

  2. Avatar Scott Hanley says:

    That rather reminds me of Barbara Tuchman’s claim, in The Guns of August, that the French Army in 1914 placed more emphasis on fighting spirit than they did strategy and tactics. If she was correct about that, it’s worth noting that the French barely stopped the Germans short of losing Paris, and probably only because the Germans diverted some of their forces to protect their eastern flank against the Russians.

    Or perhaps any number of high school athletes who discover that size and speed won’t make them invincible in college, and they need to learn some better technique if they want to be successful.Report

  3. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    (Pssst! Off the Cuff.)

    Anyway, he has expressed some nice sentiments. Now if he introduces a bill mandating that members of Congress be paid minimum wage (first one of them would have to find out what the minimum wage is), I’ll take his sentiments more seriously.Report

  4. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Of course, I’m of the opinion that in the case of the House of Reps “true democracy” should triumph, therefore, the reps will be randomly selected by computer with as few restrictions and limitations as possible for only one term…do I have an “Amen?”Report

    • Avatar RTod says:

      You’ll get an amen from me, if only for the fact that seeing the lady with 21 cats debate the guy can talk for hours about intricate David-Stern-fixing-it-for-the-Lakers conspiracy theories would make me an avid C-SPAN watcher.

      Hell, I’d watch that it were only available pay-per-view.Report

  5. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Ah, the Buckley “Phone book” approach?Report

  6. Avatar James Hanley says:


    Democracy comes from demos (the people) and kratia (power/authority). Since a computer selection would not allow the people any power, it would not be even a vague semblance of democracy, much less “true democracy.” Which is not to say it might not have other virtues, like diminishing the sum total of self-importance in Congress. Unfortunately, as the delegates to the constitutional convention ultimately agreed, to limit people to one term is to eliminate incentives to good behavior, so if we shifted to random selection we might need to build some more constraints/good incentives into the system.

    And then there’s the problem that a group of randomly chosen average people actually could make worse decisions than our current crop of arrogant toe-rags. I mean, have you actually talked to any average citizens lately?Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

      You could make it like jury duty, if chosen you can refuse. Most people don’t have political opinions, at least not very strong ones, fewer would probably have the desire to implement them, despite their water cooler rhetoric, and still fewer would probably want to have to go to D.C. when Congress is in session.

      I’m imagining a case of the “Mondays” for all those average Joes and Janes who just don’t care or have the self importance to want to do it.Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

      Yes, James, there are of course problems to be dealt with. Now, I’m no egalitarian but my considered opinion given the antics of Congress and the Executive is that those folks with an 8th grade edumaction are intellectually superior, on average, than our much loved phd’s (no snark intended). I’m not sure that I agree with you that they ‘could’ make worse decisions than those we’ve had to put up with lately since the average unwashed has some modicum of ‘common sense’ and there are any number of our elite betters who don’t have any familiarity with the concept.
      And, while I do like your application of the Greek, I do think that the random selection method, and you can use whatever method you prefer, is the great social leveler and, therefore, democratic.
      My thinking is that it will take the new congress some time to pair off into political camps, develope friendships/associations, and make the acquaintence of evil corporate/social orgainizations who seek to bribe them and soon enough their term’s over and they can never return to congress. ha,ha!
      So, while I agree there will be ‘good’ and bad about all this, the fact is spending will by the parsimonious nature of the unwashed (we don’t do ‘trillions’), be reduced, less cheating and stealing (no more Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters and Barney Fwank).Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Heh. Of course I’m one of those PhDs, so I obviously have a dog in this fight. But since I teach American Government to students who have managed to go at least 4 years beyond an 8th grade education, I think I’m in a pretty good position to evaluate the alleged “intellectual superiority” of the great unwashed whom you so admire. And it’s pretty clear to me that people like you only think they’re intellectually superior because they’re more likely to parrot the ideas you desperately want to believe, while us educated folks laugh at the general lack of knowledge you all express.

        Yes, I’m an elitist in that sense, but when I hear people with substantially more than an 8th grade education claiming there’s no separation of church and state in the Constitution, or that the government isn’t following “any” of the Constitution (while they remain wholly ignorant of what the Constitution actually says), then it’s pretty hard to take folks like you seriously.

        Our government is currently run by arrogant, self-serving, and not always well-educated fools. But only a greater fool believes that turning it over to even greater fools would somehow be an improvement. What the intellectually lazy never quite comprehend is that governing–i.e., the design of good functional public policies–really is rocket surgery.

        If there’s anyone here who really thinks that term limits and rule by the masses is a solution, I invite you to compare states like California and Michigan to states without term limits and/or citizen initiatives.

        And let’s not forget that the very same people whom you think would govern better are the very same ones who elected the people you think are doing such a terrible job. If the public hasn’t shown any wisdom in selecting their representatives, what makes you think they’d possibly do a good job of taking on that role themselves?Report

  7. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Let’s seriously examine this for a moment though, before getting buried in battle of the “unwashed” vs. the “intelligentsia” (ironically those Phd’s are often less washed than the average populace).

    If you made representation, election by lot, there would be upsides and downsides. The upsides, term limits don’t exist because statistically you are just very unlikely to get picked out of a hat twice consecutively. Constituencies don’t quite exist, true a member might vote with an eye to where they live and how what they do will affect. But it would certainly be hard for “interest” groups to have power in the traditional sense, because given a two year term, I doubt that any interest group could rally so quickly, find these new representatives with which they have no prior connection, and then start to corrupt them. Sure maybe a rep votes with an eye to who will take care of them after there term, but that happens anyway, and think how much harder it would be for interest groups to chase a new member each term rather than the same on for decades.

    In effect you would have a house of members with little beholdence, and little reason to wage political war, hold up bills, make one another look bad. You’d be taking much of the ego out of the process, as well as the politics, and making it more so, though not completely, about doing what you think should be done. Hundred, maybe thousands, have already balanced the budget using NY Times interactive game, and yet our best and brightest Reps will probably get no where substantive on this issue before punting it come the next election cycle.

    On the downside, you might have members who are not very smart, not very thoughtful, etc. I think it’s fair to say most of them won’t want to hold the office anyway, and those that already do are already that way, making it somewhat of a wash on that side.

    Perhaps the biggest downside would be volatility. As much as Republicans love to bash the “Elite” Left for being out of touch and looking down on the “masses of asses,” I can’t imagine any greater contribution to the “Uncertainty” conservative economists are all complaining about than a continually changing Congress give more to chance and randomness than stability and inertia.

    Perhaps the hedge and middle road in that way would be to only apply this thought experiment to the House, leaving the Senate intact as an elected form of State representation.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:


      A good set of thoughts. I would quibble with the “no term limits” comment, since the low probability of being re-selected is in effect a sort of almost-certain one-term limit. But I think, off the cuff, that I’m in general agreement with your substantive comments.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

      I meant to add to, that I’m sure there are many upsides and downsides I’m leaving out in the above minimal analysis. I’d be happy to have them pointed out to me.

      And I agree Hanley, the statistical improbability is in effect a term limit, which the only argument I’ve ever heard against was that it would give too much de facto power to the “staffers.” But because in this process there are not elections, probability dictates that most people who are chosen by the process probably won’t be in the top 1% or even 10% of earners (though maybe of those who decide to actually take the office things would skew in this direction). As a result, most people would be, I think, on equal footing in terms of the “staffing” they could afford, minimizing the problem of all-star staffers going with the highest bidder.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        a term limit, which the only argument I’ve ever heard against was that it would give too much de facto power to the “staffers.”

        Actually, not just staffers, but those dreaded lobbyists. After California passed term limits, I asked a Sacramento lobbyist how this would affect her job. Her response was that it would make her work harder in that she would have to continually establish new relationships with the ever-changing membership. But she pointed out that those new people have no knowledge about the issues, the institution, and the processes. And without many experienced people in the institution to turn to, the lobbyists get to play the role of mentor. That’s one of the downsides of term limits.Report