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The Cult of the Constitution

[ 0 ] December 31, 2007 |

Mssrs. Yglesias, Greenwald, Black and Krugman say most of what needs to be said about the Unity 08/Bloomberg/Broder Axis of Vacuous Wankery. To put on my Sanford Levinson hat for a minute, it seems to me one reason why unspecific claims that “something needs to be done” about important issues take such risible forms is that it’s highly impolitic to point out structural defects in the Constitution, which generally has to be taken as unassailable. But the chief obstacle to getting things done isn’t the character of the current political leadership but Madisonian institutional roadblocks. Toning down “partisan rhetoric” would do nothing to change the facts 1)that as long as you control 40 seats in the Senate and/or the White House you can prevent Congressional majorities from accomplishing anything, and 2)the gross malapportionment of the Senate will usually make its membership considerably more reactionary than the median voter. But because we’re meant to understand that the Constitution was handed down in tablet form on Mount Sinai, rather than accepting this fact we’re treated to this farce of adults claiming that all we need is “specific ideas about how to pull the country together.”

It’s worth noting as well that for this reason talk of a mythical “postpartisan” future is beside the point even if the underlying political conflicts that partisan divisions reflect could float away on the wings of unicorns. Even in the Broder Golden Age of Parties when pro-apartheid Democrats made partisan coalitions jumbled, a shockingly high percentage of the core legislation of the New Deal/Great Society state was passed in two small windows not because public officials suddenly decided to be nice to each other but because 1)a very partisan political genius in the White House was supported by 2)overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress. (And even in stage one of the New Deal, the pro-apartheid minority was able to substantially alter the content of the legislative solutions in ways that also made them worse.) Aside from the fact that it’s bizarre to see the status quo ante as preferable, more ideologically incoherent parties would do nothing to change the fact that it’s difficult to for governing parties to find solutions to problems because the Constitution doesn’t give them a fair chance to enact their agendas.


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