Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Insight, At Last

For John, BLUFA long read, but important.  Take it in sections.  Nothing to see here; just move along.

From The Atlantic and the pen of Analyst Jonathan Rauch, we finally have some insight to this amazing presidential campaign. Here is the sub-headline:
It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.
I think the best line of a very long article, and the first indication of insight on the part of the party elites, the media or academia, is this one:
Trump, however, didn’t cause the chaos.  The chaos caused Trump.  What we are seeing is not a temporary spasm of chaos but a chaos syndrome.
Think about that.  The Donald is the natural outcome to the alienation felt by the voters, as is Senator Bernie Sanders.  You can put it down to under-educated Caucasian males, but they are a block of voters and they did.  And took others with them.  And last week started picking up some LGBTQ supporters.

Here are two insightful paragraphs.

Our intricate, informal system of political intermediation, which took many decades to build, did not commit suicide or die of old age; we reformed it to death.  For decades, well-meaning political reformers have attacked intermediaries as corrupt, undemocratic, unnecessary, or (usually) all of the above.  Americans have been busy demonizing and disempowering political professionals and parties, which is like spending decades abusing and attacking your own immune system.  Eventually, you will get sick.

The disorder has other causes, too: developments such as ideological polarization, the rise of social media, and the radicalization of the Republican base.  But chaos syndrome compounds the effects of those developments, by impeding the task of organizing to counteract them.  Insurgencies in presidential races and on Capitol Hill are nothing new, and they are not necessarily bad, as long as the governing process can accommodate them.  Years before the Senate had to cope with Ted Cruz, it had to cope with Jesse Helms.  The difference is that Cruz shut down the government, which Helms could not have done had he even imagined trying.

Note the comment about "we reformed it to death."  The author suggests, for example, that the campaign finance reforms made things worse, rather than better.  So, you might not like Citizens United, but campaign Finance reform has just made things worse.

You will have to read the whole thing to find out the problems Author Rauch has identified.  I will note that the author probably puts too much emphasis on the Tea Parties, and not enough on the 1968 Democratic Party Convention and the subsequent Senator George McGovern reforms (McGovern-Fraser Commission).

The author does provide some suggested solutions to the chaos that he sees consuming our political process:

I don’t have a quick solution to the current mess, but I do think it would be easy, in principle, to start moving in a better direction.  Although returning parties and middlemen to anything like their 19th-century glory is not conceivable—or, in today’s America, even desirable—strengthening parties and middlemen is very doable.  Restrictions inhibiting the parties from coordinating with their own candidates serve to encourage political wildcatting, so repeal them.  Limits on donations to the parties drive money to unaccountable outsiders, so lift them.  Restoring the earmarks that help grease legislative success requires nothing more than a change in congressional rules.  And there are all kinds of ways the parties could move insiders back to the center of the nomination process.  If they wanted to, they could require would-be candidates to get petition signatures from elected officials and county party chairs, or they could send unbound delegates to their conventions (as several state parties are doing this year), or they could enhance the role of middlemen in a host of other ways.

Building party machines and political networks is what career politicians naturally do, if they’re allowed to do it. So let them.  I’m not talking about rigging the system to exclude challengers or prevent insurgencies.  I’m talking about de-rigging the system to reduce its pervasive bias against middlemen.  Then they can do their job, thereby making the world safe for challengers and insurgencies.

Unfortunately, although the mechanics of de-rigging are fairly straightforward, the politics of it are hard.  The public is wedded to an anti-establishment narrative.  The political-reform community is invested in direct participation, transparency, fund-raising limits on parties, and other elements of the anti-intermediation worldview.  The establishment, to the extent that there still is such a thing, is demoralized and shattered, barely able to muster an argument for its own existence.

And, the author has some hopeful notes:
But there are optimistic signs, too.  Liberals in the campaign-finance-reform community are showing new interest in strengthening the parties. Academics and commentators are getting a good look at politics without effective organizers and cohesive organizations, and they are terrified.  On Capitol Hill, conservatives and liberals alike are on board with restoring regular order in Congress.  In Washington, insiders have had some success at reorganizing and pushing back.  No Senate Republican was defeated by a primary challenger in 2014, in part because then–Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a machine politician par excellence, created a network of business allies to counterpunch against the Tea Party.

The biggest obstacle, I think, is the general public’s reflexive, unreasoning hostility to politicians and the process of politics. Neurotic hatred of the political class is the country’s last universally acceptable form of bigotry.  Because that problem is mental, not mechanical, it really is hard to remedy.

The author, early on in the article, points out we could have a repeat of this election year in 2020, if there are not changes.  At the this point, the election of a Hillary Clinton will be a continuation of things as they are, with some possibility of reforms around the margins until the citizenry has educated itself on what is going on.  The election of a Donald Trump will create more of an opportunity for reform, but with less predictability as to how the next four years will go.  The term from bridge players is "A cheap trick now will cost you later."

Hat tip to the Memorandum.

Regards  —  Cliff

Regards — Cliff

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