Friday, December 13, 2013

John Boehner just proved Francis Fukuyama right


Francis Fukuyama has a timely essay in the latest issue of The American Interest.

His thesis is that American political institutions have decayed for three uniquely historical reasons:
The first is that, relative to other liberal democracies, the judiciary and the legislature (including the roles played by the two major political parties) continue to play outsized roles in American government at the expense of Executive Branch bureaucracies. Americans’ traditional distrust of government thus leads to judicial solutions for administrative problems. Over time this has become a very expensive and inefficient way to manage administrative requirements.

The second is that the accretion of interest group and lobbying influences has distorted democratic processes and eroded the ability of the government to operate effectively. What biologists label kin selection and reciprocal altruism (the favoring of family and friends with whom one has exchanged favors) are the two natural modes of human sociability. It is to these types of relationships that people revert when modern, impersonal government breaks down.

The third is that under conditions of ideological polarization in a federal governance structure, the American system of checks and balances, originally designed to prevent the emergence of too strong an executive authority, has become a vetocracy. The decision system has become too porous—too democratic—for its own good, giving too many actors the means to stifle adjustments in public policy. We need stronger mechanisms to force collective decisions but, because of the judicialization of government and the outsized role of interest groups, we are unlikely to acquire such mechanisms short of a systemic crisis. In that sense these three structural characteristics have become intertwined.
Nearly on cue, House Majority Leader John Boehner has defended the latest bipartisan budget proposal and slammed conservative and Tea Party interest groups over their continued criticism:
"He personally has thick skin, but attacking what Chairman Ryan has done got under his skin," the aide said, referring to Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan who led the GOP effort to put together the budget deal with his Senate counterpart, Patty Murray.

The fact that conservative groups started attacking the budget deal before it was even announced particularly bothered Boehner, the aide said. He said as much when asked by CNN's Dana Bash why he was taking them on.

"When groups come out and criticize an agreement they have never seen you begin to wonder just how credible those actions are," Boehner said. "So yesterday, when the criticism was coming, frankly, I thought it was my job and my obligation to stand up for conservatives here in the Congress who want more deficit reduction, stand up for the work that Chairman Ryan did."
Naturally, there has been some push-back from these groups, particularly Heritage Foundation's activist branch, Heritage Action:
“The people who were very close to the deal knew we were going to be opposed, knew when we were going to come out and be critical of the framework. And we actually talked to them ahead of time and said, ‘hey, are the press reports true? If not, tell us where they’re wrong and we’ll stand back,’” says Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action.

“They weren’t able to tell us how the press reports were misleading of the coming deal. We gave them every opportunity to set the record straight. At the end of the day, they didn’t because everybody knew what the deal was,” he adds.
Conservative pundits are also weighing in:
“I think John Boehner is one of the prime examples of worthless, worthless Republicans,” Beck said Thursday on Mark Levin’s radio show. “All these people saying, ‘Hey, the Republicans aren’t as bad,’ no. I think they actually might be worse, because they claim to be something that they’re not.”

Beck told Levin, who called Boehner “utterly feckless,” that Boehner and those like him “have got to go.”

“I will not vote for another Republican who is just a Republican who says, ‘Well, you know, we got to do what we got to do.’ No we don’t, we have to take a stand,” Beck said, citing Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for standing up.

The pair advocated a strategy for defunding Obamacare that led to the government shutdown in October.
But like David Brooks, not everyone is aghast, regardless of their opinions on the Obamacare rollout:
This is a good moment to advocate greater executive branch power because we’ve just seen a monumental example of executive branch incompetence: the botched Obamacare rollout. It’s important to advocate greater executive branch power in a chastened mood. It’s not that the executive branch is trustworthy; it’s just that we’re better off when the presidency is strong than we are when the rentier groups are strong, or when Congress, which is now completely captured by the rentier groups, is strong.

Here are the advantages. First, it is possible to mobilize the executive branch to come to policy conclusion on something like immigration reform. It’s nearly impossible for Congress to lead us to a conclusion about anything. Second, executive branch officials are more sheltered from the interest groups than Congressional officials. Third, executive branch officials usually have more specialized knowledge than staffers on Capitol Hill and longer historical memories. Fourth, Congressional deliberations, to the extent they exist at all, are rooted in rigid political frameworks. Some agencies, especially places like the Office of Management and Budget, are reasonably removed from excessive partisanship. Fifth, executive branch officials, if they were liberated from rigid Congressional strictures, would have more discretion to respond to their screw-ups, like the Obamacare implementation. Finally, the nation can take it out on a president’s party when a president’s laws don’t work. That doesn’t happen in Congressional elections, where most have safe seats.
National consensus on executive branch power will probably always be as popular as whoever happens to be President.

But it wouldn't hurt to streamline the American government's ability to actually govern.

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