Republicans And Policy Formation: They’ve Got Their Ears To The Tubes!
It’s hard not to love modern day Republicans in the same way I love old Marx Brothers movies. They’re scheming, manipulating, devoid of serious ideas, but always in motion and lately consistently entertaining in the way politics is when sex scandals and bizarre things like The Family eclipse the boring stuff. Why bog a governor down with policy and governance when there’s an Appalachian trail to hike?
Say what you will about the Democrats, but they got health care reform through and they’re getting financial regulation reform, too. Yes, it’s slow and tedious, but it’s supposed to be slow and tedious because “careful and thoughtful” takes time and the Founders knew that. They built into the Constitution a bias against quick change due to inflamed passions of the moment, this to better prevent against things like that nasty little law they just passed in Arizona. The Founders were aware of the doctrine of unintended consequences. But let’s get back to the Republicans.
What are they up to now? They’ve got their ears to the ground, their eyes on the ball, their fingers on the pulse of America! They’re calling Mr. and Mrs. America and All Ships At Sea: Send Us Ideas!!
Sigh. This is probably not the democracy our Founders had mind. Let’s back up and see if we can agree on some basic ground rules, or at least, some best practices.
Partisanship is good, folks. Campaigns are good – debates! dialogues! speeches! – these are the poetry of electoral democracy. Politicians are supposed to go at it – perhaps in a more civilized way than some do – but it’s good that they contest each other. That’s a big part of how campaign politics turns into public policy – the best ideas are supposed to come from exchanges between party leaders, as the minority party challenges the ideals and goals of the majority party. An old-timey political theorist wrote that true democracy lives “in between the parties,” not in one or the other. Competition! What could be more American than that?
I believe in “responsible party politics.” I’m not making that up now, it’s a real political science theory dreamed up in 1950 by academic elites like me, together with some public administration and practical politics wonks. The basic premise is that candidates lead political parties; parties and their candidates form agendas, called platforms, to show and tell voters what the parties’ leaders will do when they get elected. And if they don’t do what they say they will and they don’t have a good excuse, then a responsible electorate should vote them out of office. Like we did when the Democrats, as a minority party, advanced a good (read: clearly winning) presidential candidate after eight years of Junior.
The Republicans are the worst minority party ever; way worse than the Democrats, who were not particularly good at it either. Why are the Republicans the worst minority party ever? They are completely devoid of ideas – much less a thoughtful mid-term platform. They used to be The Party of No; now they’re The Party of No, Don’t Know, and Don’t Care as Long as We Get in Obama’s Way. That’s just tedious; they know it and we know it. And so they’re doing their best to come up with ideas. And what’s their best? The same way we get pornography these days: the Internet. Dana Milbank, writing last Wednesday in the Washington Post, nails the folly of this populist dance.
True, Milbank is a bit glib and, shall we say, partisan, but it’s still a worthwhile short piece about, essentially, the intersection of public policy formation (particularly public input), with political parties, and the matrix of internet technology and governance and, loosely-speaking, opt-in internet research. To be fair, he points out only the whackos; I imagine there were probably also some genuinely thoughtful responses. However, his point is well taken. The Republicans are devoid of ideas and, recalling some early Bob Dylan, they should not stand in the doorway or block up the hall.
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