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Good for the goose

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Now here’s an interesting idea:

The debt ceiling turns out to be unexploded ordnance lying around the American form of government. Only custom or moral compunction stops the opposition party from using it to nullify the president’s powers, or, for that matter, the president from using it to nullify Congress’s. (Obama could, theoretically, threaten to veto a debt ceiling hike unless Congress attaches it to the creation of single-payer health insurance.) [emphasis added] To weaponize the debt ceiling, you must be willing to inflict harm on millions of innocent people. It is a shockingly powerful self-destruct button built into our very system of government, but only useful for the most ideologically hardened or borderline sociopathic. But it turns out to be the perfect tool for the contemporary GOP: a party large enough to control a chamber of Congress yet too small to win the presidency, and infused with a dangerous, millenarian combination of overheated Randian paranoia and fully justified fear of adverse demographic trends. The only thing that limits the debt ceiling’s potency at the moment is the widespread suspicion that Boehner is too old school, too lacking in the Leninist will to power that fires his newer co-partisans, to actually carry out his threat. (He has suggested as much to some colleagues in private.) Boehner himself is thus the one weak link in the House Republicans’ ability to carry out a kind of rolling coup against the Obama administration. Unfortunately, Boehner’s control of his chamber is tenuous enough that, like the ailing monarch of a crumbling regime, it’s impossible to strike an agreement with him in full security it will be carried out.

“Theoretically.” Hmmm . . .

Chait of course isn’t suggesting either that Obama actually do this, or that he would even consider it. But the point is that once a system starts going far enough down this road the logic of hostage-taking pretty much demands symmetrical behavior by the executive, who is in fact in a stronger position to extract concessions, since he only needs cooperation from one third of the members of one legislative chamber. (Which I take it is a point that flows out of Linz’s analysis, although I’m not familiar with it).

Read the whole thing,.

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  • Adolphus

    Help me out here. Is it really “built into the system”? To the best of my knowledge, and limited googling so far, it is something ADDED to the system around 1917. It could be subtracted or amended at any time (theoretically).

    What am I missing?

    • Crunchy Frog

      It is “built into the system” in the sense that for anything to become law there must be more approval than a simple majority of one party.

      Under the US Constitution, as you know, there must be majority approval of both houses + the President, or 2/3 of both houses. Add in the Senate rules’ 60% threshold. All of these elements must agree or there is no budget, no approval of government action going forward. The debt ceiling is just one obvious example, but this really applies to anything. If a dedicated minority were willing to cause any destruction in order to get their way they can stop any actions being passed as long as they hold either house, or 1/3 of one house plus the Presidency.

      A similar situation exists in California which the radical Republicans used for a couple decades to seriously harm the state. Because prop 13 requires 2/3rd of both state houses to approve any budget the Republicans were able to use their minority status and their willingness to destroy state government to gain far more influence on budget policy than the majority Democrats had.

      The only solution is to allow a simple majority to pass laws. But of course the whole purpose of the complex setup of the US government was to prevent just that. The last thing that Madison et al wanted was to have pure majority rule.

      • TrexPushups

        The filibuster is not in the constitution.

        There is no 60% requirement in it.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          The filibuster is a (continuing) choice of the Senate majority. Right now the folks most responsible for it are the very large minority (possibly a majority) of Democratic Senators who’d still vote with their GOP colleagues to preserve it.

        • Anonymous

          Yes the filibuster is self-imposed stupidity.

          On the other hand, the Senate itself is one of the worst ideas in the US Constitution. The wildly disproportionate representation, the original notion that state legislatures could pick senators repsonsibly, the lengthy terms, and let’s be honest, the benefits of bicameralism in general are vastly overrated.

          • Hogan

            And it’s created a culture in which it makes sense to have a rule that says any time a senator has something to say, all business should come to a stop until he’s finished. I wish I had half that much self-regard.

          • The whole Constitutional system is “self-imposed” unless you think the Founding Fathers were lizard people in humanoid shells.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              But there’s a difference between self-imposed in 1787 (e.g. the existence of the Senate) and self-imposed every two years (e.g. the filibuster).

              • Only if you assume that the rules of the senate are discovered anew every two years, instead of being long-standing practices.

                Ever try to change the culture and decision-making practices of an institution?

                • Incontinentia Buttocks

                  Actually filibuster rules and practices have been overhauled repeatedly throughout the history of the Senate. For example, until the 1830s, nobody actually filibustered. In 1917, cloture was invented. In 1949, the cloture rules were significantly reformed. They were reformed again in the 1970s. And over the course of the last decade or so, Republicans have significantly changed practice if not the rules.

                  Compared to this, the institution of the Senate itself is remarkably stable, the only major change being the 17th Amendment. Which only makes sense, as the Senate is established by the Constitution, while the Senate rules are simply adopted by that body (as per the Constitution).

            • The whole Constitutional system is “self-imposed” unless you think the Founding Fathers were lizard people in humanoid shells.

              You’re forgetting that the constitution was written by god himself. Why do you hate freedom?

              But back in serious land, yes, this is clearly an example of where the US constitution (in the broad sense with which the term is used in the UK, and not the narrow sense of just the document itself that is used in the US) is clearly failing a requires repair. It should not be possible to simply amend/reject any and all laws simply by refusing to fund the government. Requiring a super-majority rather than a simple majority imposes a limitation on democracy.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            Bicameralism had plenty of critics in 1787, too. The problem was that a constitution with a unicameral system that worked like the House (i.e. representation by population) would never have been ratified by the smaller states, while one with a unicameral system that worked like the Senate (i.e. equal representation of the states in Congress) would never have been ratified by the smaller states. The Senate was part of the price of ratification….as was the 3/5ths clause, fwiw. That doesn’t make either necessarily defensible. But the realistic counterfactual is not a United States with a Constitution without these features.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              whoops…that second “smaller states” should read “larger states.”

            • Anonymous

              Sure, it is however, an argument against the “bestest Constitution ever” prize so many Americans like to award themselves, and unlike the 3/5ths clause, still persists, and due to the role of States in Amendment ratification, is likely to persist for the foreseeable future.

              Also, the bicameralism of 49 of our state legislatures is more democratic in the selection of the upper house, but not necessarily of any use either.

        • Crunchy Frog

          That’s why I referred to it separately from the Constitutional requirements.

    • It’s also in the Constitution that Congress controls debt issuance.

  • Shalimar

    While I don’t doubt that Obama would favor single-payer, does anyone think he would scrap the last 4 years of preparation for his most important achievement to be implemented, just as the implementation finally starts? Thus, theoretically, even if he was the type to hold hostages, this isn’t the hostage he would take.

    • That’s half of my problem with the idea. Unless his “hostage” is a federal public option, I don’t see him torpedoing his major achievement, even for something vastly better.

      The other half of my problem with the idea is that I think this underestimates the political price he would pay for it. A good portion of the country was already radicalized and (more’s the pity) reactivated politically by the last attempt with its “death panels” and its “government takeover” and whatever else Frank Luntz came up with, and that bill was still full of sops to the insurance industry.

      If Obama were to make that threat, the diffusion coefficient alone on the shitstorm that would follow that announcement would make the previous fight look like a Nerf gun battle.*

      And furthermore, unlike the GOP which can weaponize the debt ceiling because a good half of its voters want and expect the party to stick it to the (Black/Socialist) Man, if the Dems did it, you’d get wall-to-wall coverage of their betrayal of the republic.

      * OTOH, the GOP has activated all the voters it’s going to activate, and I’m not sure Obama would scare off anyone in his base. So I think my concern here is for “independent” voters who are typically “screw-the-poor” types (that’s a relative clause, not an appositive phrase) who will vote with whichever party looks like it’s going to spend less or be more efficient with what it does spend. I think they might come around to Obamacare just now, but I don’t see them coming around to single-payer just yet.

      • panda

        Right, but *theoritically* he could threaten that unless the minimum wage is raised,a carbon tax is imposed,background checks are legislated, and a couple of billions are added to ACA implementation funds, he will veto a raise in the debt ceiling. The issue here is not the specific policy, but the general principle of getting shit in exchange of not melting down the global credit markets.

        • Fair enough. I guess in my experience (or maybe just my own usage) “theoretically” is so often used to mean “within the realm of real possibility” that I found it a bit strong as an adverb there.

          (This is why they don’t let me out of the languages department.)

          • Lee Rudolph

            in my experience (or maybe just my own usage) “theoretically” is so often used to mean “within the realm of real possibility”

            Isn’t that what “practically” is used to mean?

            Certainly there are cases where “practically” and “theoretically” are used as an antonymic pair, and my impression (or, maybe, just my generalization from my own usage) is that in those cases the precise dimension along which the antinomy is intended is bounded by “in the realm of real possibility” and “outside the realm of real possibility”.

            But, hey. They don’t even let me in to the languages department.

            • Hey, I already sit corrected, for this particular sentence at least.

              (FWIW, I’d probably have used “hypothetically” if I were writing.)

    • Murc

      It could just be Chait was using a theoretical example people would easily understand.

      I mean, you could replace “single payer” in there with literally anything else and the point, which is that Obama could play this game too if he wanted, would still be valid.

      “Obama could, theoretically, threaten to veto a debt ceiling hike unless Congress attaches it to the creation of a Strategic Bacon Reserve.”

      “Obama could, theoretically, threaten to veto a debt ceiling hike unless Congress attaches it to a declaration of war against the Jupiter Moon Martians.”

      “Obama could, theoretically, threaten to veto a debt ceiling hike unless Congress attaches it to the adoption of Nacho Hats as our national uniform.”

      • Alan Tomlinson

        “Obama could, theoretically, threaten to veto a debt ceiling hike unless Congress attaches it to the adoption of Nacho Hats as our national uniform.”

        I haven’t the slightest clue what a Nacho Hat is, but I can easily imagine the NH becoming a required article of clothing for all schoolchildren, Americans overseas, and worn by the citizenry on all national holidays. I can imagine imprisonment for the defiling of NHs and treason charges for anyone who mocks the NH. And so much more . . . .

        Cheers,

        Alan Tomlinson

        • junker
        • Sev

          This will take place during the administration of President Ernesto Cardenal Lazarus, the first of Mexiraguan descent to rise to the office.

          • Hogan

            It’s their traditional food, after all.

      • Michael H Schneder

        Hey, don’t forget the pony.

        This is why I’m upset that Obama is refusing to negotiate. His opening postion should include:

        1. Resignation or impeachment of Scalia, Roberts, Alito, and Thomas (compromise: they can keep Thomas)

        2. Constitutional amendment guaranteeing a free and unfettered right to abortion (compromise: in 2d half of 3rd trimester, restrictions narrowly drawn to compelling interest ok)

        3. Equal rights amendment, including sexual orientation (no compromise)

        4. Unfair labor practces by employers made a capital crime (compromise: life without parole)

        5. single payor – medicare for all (compromise: delay impementation for six months)

        6. Affirmatve constitutional right to vote (compromise: only for citizens and legal residents)

        7. Marginal tax rate of 90% on all income over $1million (compromise: 80%)

        8. all income treated the same for tax purposes, no capital gain rate (comromise: lower rate for capital gains up to gross income limit of $25k)

        and a pony (compromise: a large dog)

        • jeer9

          :>)

        • blueloom

          and a pony (compromise: a large dog)

          Only if “a large dog” is defined as a Great Dane. Otherwise, no compromise.

          Two thumbs up on the rest of the list.

          • What about an Irish Wolfhound or a Newfoundland? I’m willing to make compromises of this sort.

            • somethingblue

              Mr. Schneder has already compromised by not asking for two dogs and an African pygmy hedgehog. Why won’t GeoX listen to the American people?

        • Rarely Posts

          As a decadent, urban liberal, I am willing to compromise for a large-toy or medium sized dog (pug, beagle, similar sized mutt, etc.). And, much like Republicans, my “compromise” actually gets me my personally favored outcome. But I demand that they recognize that I am doing them a favor by accepting it.

      • Wait. Let’s not lightly skim past this Strategic Bacon Reserve. Is there a shortage I’m not aware of?

        Asking for, you know, a friend…

    • kerFuFFler

      Of course Obama would not do such a thing. This is basically a thought experiment to see if conservatives would recognize the treasonous and extortionate nature of such a course of action. The next step is to make sure people see how this is exactly what the Tea Party Reps and the Speaker of the House have done.

      • Mchael H Schneder

        Of course Obama would not do such a thing.

        But he should do such a thing.

        As the original post points out: “… the logic of hostage-taking pretty much demands symmetrical behavior by the executive

        Negotation is a process of symetrical reciprocal concessions. Obama’s problem is that he’s been making unilateral concessions in exchange for nothing.

        There’s a rough presumption that the two sides should meet in the middle. That’s only possible if the parties start approximately equally far apart.

        In order to start equally far apart (roughly) Obama really should agree to negotiate, and should state his opening position including all the points I listed above, plus 4 major concessions to be named later. And no cap on income subject to FICA. And a guaranteed minimum income.

        He’s still stupidly trying to be the responsible adult and not make crazy demands – and that’s pointless in this situation. Negotiation has to be symetrical.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Chait continues:

    Obama foolishly set the precedent in 2011 that he would let Congress jack him up for a debt-ceiling hike. He now has to crush the practice completely, lest it become ritualized. Obama not only must refuse to trade concessions for a debt-ceiling hike; he has to make it clear that he will endure default before he submits to ransom. To pay a ransom now, even a tiny one, would ensure an endless succession of debt-ceiling ransoms until, eventually, the two sides fail to agree on the correct size of the ransom and default follows….

    Obama foolishly set the precedent in 2011 that he would let Congress jack him up for a debt-ceiling hike. He now has to crush the practice completely, lest it become ritualized. Obama not only must refuse to trade concessions for a debt-ceiling hike; he has to make it clear that he will endure default before he submits to ransom. To pay a ransom now, even a tiny one, would ensure an endless succession of debt-ceiling ransoms until, eventually, the two sides fail to agree on the correct size of the ransom and default follows.

    Sounds tricky. Thank goodness the President doesn’t need to worry about messaging!

    • Crunchy Frog

      I find it interesting that it is now widely, if not quite universally, recognized that the 2011 compromise was a big mistake for Obama (quite possibly the biggest of his presidency) and a big win for the GOP.

      Perhaps Obama’s staunchest defenders are now comfortable acknowledging this because he clearly has learned from the mistake.

      • panda

        I think the big difference between then and now is that in 2011, the GOP, having just won by a historic margin in an election in which THE DEBT was the major issue, ostensibly, had a right to set the legislative agenda, at least for a while. Obama for sure made a mistake by standing relatively firm on the budget resolution and trying to negotiate over the debt ceiling, instead of doing it the other way around, but the situation is drastically different than in 2011 in terms of which side has democratic legitimacy on their side.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          That’s certainly an explanation….but it’s not a very good argument. A President is elected to a four year term, not a term of indefinite length that’s decreased by his party’s losing midterm elections.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            I actually think that what’s changed since 2011 is that the Obama Administration has finally figured out that it’s impossible to negotiate in good faith with this House GOP leadership. In 2011, Obama still held out the hope that there was common ground on which some sort of Grand Bargain might be forged. But common ground is quite literally impossible with a party whose guiding principle is the destruction of the current presidency. Anything that Obama wants will be rejected simply because Obama wants it. It’s like negotiating with Monty Python’s argument sketch.

        • Malaclypse

          I think the big difference between then and now is that in 2011, the GOP, having just won by a historic margin in an election in which THE DEBT was the major issue, ostensibly, had a right to set the legislative agenda, at least for a while.

          Exactly. That’s why Bush, early in 2007, pulled all the troops out of Iraq, after all.

          • joe from Lowell

            In 2007, Bush began the SOFA negotiations that resulted in his acceptance of a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq.

        • catclub

          “in which THE DEBT was the major issue, ostensibly”
          Although the actual winning issue was: ‘The ACA will kill your medicare.’
          Mostly under the national radar.

      • joe from Lowell

        Going into the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations, the public blamed the parties roughly evenly for the standoff. Coming out of them, and ever since, they have sided decidedly with the Democrats.

        The freedom Obama has to stand firm this year is a consequence of winning the political fight in 2011. Perhaps even his staunches critics can now acknowledge that the tack he took in 2011 paid political dividends.

        • Crunchy Frog

          I’m not seeing anyone who criticized Obama for the 2011 negotiation now praising him for it.

          That’s kind of like the argument that Bay of Pigs wasn’t so bad because it gave JFK the resolve he needed for the Missile Crisis (yes, some few historians have argued this). Of course, if Bay of Pigs hadn’t happened the way it did there probably never would have been a Missile Crisis … similarly, the reason the GOP created the current standoff is that they felt they could win like they did in 2011.

          • joe from Lowell

            It’s rather different from your JFK argument in that nobody was saying, as the Bay of Pigs operation was happening, that the plan was to give JFK the resolve he needed for the Cuban Missile Crisis. Whereas everyone involved in, and observing, the debt ceiling talks in 2011 (and their multiple successors) was discussing the “adult in the room” strategy – whether favorably or unfavorably.

            The Republicans won a national election, big time, in 2010, and took control of a house of Congress. When you do that, you get to shift policy in your direction. If they, or any observers, thought that the shift in fiscal policy in the aftermath of the elections was a consequence of debt-ceiling strategy, and not the fundamental fact of the election victory, they’re fooling themselves.

            But you’re probably right: the Republicans, not being terribly reality-based people, probably do think that it was their alienating, suicidal political tactics, and not the electoral victory that allowed them, that brought about the spending cuts they were able to impose. Hence, you see them trying that same tactic, in a very different political atmosphere, and falling on their faces.

            • Pat

              They do have a bad tendency to keep fighting the last fight instead of moving on to the new one.

              • joe from Lowell

                They’re like al Qaeda: if they go after a target and don’t bring it down, they become obsessed.

          • joe from Lowell

            Also, the variable that changed isn’t “will,” like in an Aaron Sorkin script, but the political environment.

        • somethingblue

          The freedom Obama has to stand firm this year is a consequence of winning the political fight in 2011. Perhaps even his staunchest critics can now acknowledge that the tack he took in 2011 paid political dividends.

          To its credit, even the White House doesn’t appear to believe this. But sure, if you want to tell yourself that negotiating over the debt ceiling was a masterstroke of umpty-dimensional chess, have at it.

          • Steve LaBonne

            It’s pretty funny that even when Obama realizes he screwed up, and allows a stream of acknowledgements of that fact to come from the White House, Joe will still claim to believe he was playing 11 dimensional chess. Talk about being more Catholic than the Pope.

            • Lee Rudolph

              You’re just being played. The dial on Obama’s dimensioner goes all the way to TWELVE!!!

            • Pat

              I think that JFL might argue that acting in good faith throughout provides some measure of reputation that means people believe you will do what you say you will.

              I think everyone else here is acutely aware that the Pres is learning on the job, and criticize him pretty much like a million man Greek Chorus.

            • joe from Lowell

              Obama realizes he screwed up, and allows a stream of acknowledgements of that fact to come from the White House

              Or he needs an answer to the media when they ask why he’s playing it differently.

              11-dimensional chess is a term that naive people use to pretend they aren’t being naive when they take politicians’ public pronouncements at face value.

            • Crunchy Frog

              Interestingly, even Plouffe now acknowledges the fact.

              http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/david-plouffe-we-probably-accommodated-gop-too-much-in-2011

              I’d also forgotten that Boner bragged he’d gotten 98% of what he’d wanted in that negotiation.

              At some point you have to admit your side made a mistake ….

          • joe from Lowell

            11-dimensional chess is a term naive people use to pretend that taking everything at face value isn’t naive.

  • Davis

    Well, the Tea Partiers who claim that not passing a debt ceiling hike is no big deal would change their tune in a nanosecond, and that’s not theoretical at all.

  • cpinva

    gee, has 14A been repealed, and I missed it? if things got really tight, and it became obvious to everyone outside the beltway, that the house GOP is just absolutely bound and determined to commit suicide, and take the rest of the world with them, Obama could invoke 14A, and challenge the GOP to see him in the USSC.

    as far as our form of gov’t creating inherent “instability”, I believe the authors saw that as a feature, not a bug. it kept any one branch from gaining too much power, forcing the majority to at least recognize the minority as having legitimate concerns. of course, the authors couldn’t possibly have foreseen that a political party would be taken over by barking mad loons (with apologies to loons, a fine Canadian bird).

    • Jeffrey Beaumont

      I’ve only heard this argument coming from crazy-bird corners. How exactly would this work?

    • UserGoogol

      The 14th Amendment doesn’t really spell out what “the public debt… shall not be questioned” means. There’s a genuine ambiguity in what sort of powers the executive is allowed to use in order to back up the validity of the public debt. I think it’d be perfectly reasonable for the government to ignore the debt limit, but the courts could disagree. And shrouding the public debt in that sort of legal ambiguity might upset the markets.

      But yes, Obama should be prepared to do what he has to do if the debt limit isn’t raised. But it would be very messy territory.

    • “gee, has 14A been repealed, and I missed it? if things got really tight, and it became obvious to everyone outside the beltway, that the house GOP is just absolutely bound and determined to commit suicide, and take the rest of the world with them, Obama could invoke 14A, and challenge the GOP to see him in the USSC.”

      Except that getting him to do this (or something like it, such as the equally-nutty trillion-dollar-platinum-coin) is basically the entire aim of Republican strategy. They then launch a simulataneous challenge in the courts and an impeachment attempt, Obama spends the rest of his term fighting them on it, and a ‘reasonable’ Republican takes the presidency in 2016 with apromise of an end to strife.

  • Rarely Posts

    The problem is that you can only use this hostage if people believe that you don’t care about the well-being of the Country or the economy. Democrats in general, and Obama in particular, clearly do care, so they couldn’t use this threat.

    It’s amazing that it’s now considered normal that Republicans don’t care, and it’s amazing that it won’t really hurt them with their base. It’s a sign of how broken they and their base are mentally.

    • Boris

      What if the hostage is something dear to GOP but not so to Democrats? Farm bill, for example? Since Southern Democrats are no longer a part of the New Deal coalition, can Democrats plausibly keep Farm bill hostage? E.g. attaching Dream act as an amendment?

      • Rarely Posts

        First, holding up the farm bill (or similar legislation) isn’t, to my knowledge, a similar form of hostage taking. It’s not shutting down government processes, and it’s not threatening our credit rating or the world economy. It might be closer if Democrats refused to pass a “clean CR” without stripping out all funding for agriculture, etc. I think that’s the better comparison.

        Second, the Democrats support the farm bill because the Midwest and West remain a part of the New Deal Coalition, and Democrats want to make in-roads into the South. That’s one of the differences here — Democrats mostly are unwilling to write off entire swathes of the Country; in contrast, Republicans just don’t care.

        • Scott Lemieux

          The construction of the Senate also means that the Democrats can’t just retreat to their urban base.

          • Rarely Posts

            Very true. I would eliminate the Senate in an instant if I could. But, it’s also a good thing that the Democrats don’t simply retreat to an urban base — liberalism is better off with a party that takes seriously the needs of people across the Country. The Republican attitude of try to “split the country in half and end up with the larger chunk” isn’t a good way to develop a successful, sustainable, and fair system of governance. You can’t make everyone happy, but it’s good to try to at least show respect and concern for most of the Country.

  • elm

    Linz was right about many things but he overstated the case about the instability of presidential systems: while most empirical analyses suggest that presidential systems are less stable than parliamentary ones, they are not as doomed to failure as Linz argued.

    For instance, Cheibub and Limongi’s 2002 article in the American Political Science Review, “Democratic Institutions and Regime Survival:Parliamentary and Presidential Democracies Reconsidered” found that presidential democracies had a 4% chance of turning into a dictatorship in any given year while parliamentary democracies had a 2% chance. Cheibub’s 2007 book “Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy” reached similar conclusions and further argued that even if presidential regimes are less stable, they aren’t less stable for the reasons Linz gave. (Rather, Cheibub argues that presidential democracies collapse more often because they tend to be chosen by democracies that are more likely to collapse regardless of type of democracy.)

    Cheibub’s view seems to be the more commonly held amongst political scientists right now, though many still hold to a weak-Linzian view (I haven’t seen anyone make the stronger claim that presidential systems are inherently unstable (and the US just a lucky outlier), as Linz did, in a couple of decades, which makes sense since a number of presidential democracies created in the 80s and 90s have been doing just fine.)

    • Barry

      “…in a couple of decades, which makes sense since a number of presidential democracies created in the 80s and 90s have been doing just fine.)”

      Note that those countries are in many cases on their first generation of politicians working under this system, and have lived under bad governments. They probably don’t take lightly threats to destroy the system, and are also well aware that the system can be destroyed, and that what comes next is both uncertain and likely bad.

    • Manny Kant

      It seems to me that the idea that presidential systems are less stable must rely rather heavily on some dubious nonsense. Plenty of parliamentary democracies in Europe exploded during the inter-war period. And plenty of Latin American presidential systems seem to be doing fine lately. Isn’t the supposed greater instability of presidential systems largely due to the fact that most presidential systems have been in unstable parts of the world?

      • elm

        Up until 1980 or so, presidential systems had a really bad track record (except for the U.S. and Costa Rica.) The evidence now is more even, as it looks like some of the presidential systems in Latin America and East Europe are pretty stable democracies this time around (not so for earlier presidential systems in LA in particular.)

        Even so, Cheibub’s data is from 1945-2000 I think, suggesting that presidential systems are more fragile. The main reasons for this seems to be that military dictatorships often choose presidentialism when they transition to democracy (I suppose because they like having one person in charge) and former military dictatorships have a high chance of returning to dictatorship.

        But, yeah, despite what Chait says, one really can’t maintain a strong-Linzian position on presidentialism anymore. On the other hand, Linz’s death is a blow to political science as he was a great scholar even if all of his work hasn’t held up, so it’s nice to see him get some recognition in the popular press.

        (Everything I’ve said in my two comments is only on the stability of presidentialism. Other research seems to suggest that parliamentarism provides higher quality governance, though this is by no means a universal finding.)

        • Manny Kant

          Well, Chile had had a fairly successful presidential democracy up until soon before 1980, and now has one again. But the basic issue is that *Latin America* had a very bad record with democracy, while Europe had a somewhat better one.

          I’d add that looking only at post-1945 excludes the inter-war period, when we see a large number of failed parliamentary democracies in Europe, and would seem to me to rather skew the data.

          • elm

            The pre-1945 data is even worse for presidential systems: that’s where much of the evidence for Linz’s initial assertion came from.

            You’re right that I should probably have also included Chile in my list and you’re right that a lot of it has to do with unstable regimes choosing presidential systems rather than the systems themselves being unstable. Presidential systems weren’t unique to the Americas, though, and, until recently, had a rather bad track record all over so I don’t think the answer is quite as simple as Latin America has a bad record of democracy and Europe a better one, though that could certainly play a role.

          • “’d add that looking only at post-1945 excludes the inter-war period, when we see a large number of failed parliamentary democracies in Europe, and would seem to me to rather skew the data.”

            I’d wager including the inter-war period (and more so the pre-WW1 period) would also allow in a lot of examples of presidential systems turning dictatorial as well, not least due to the history of Latin America during the inter-war-period. The ‘skew’ wouldn’t change by much.

  • Manta

    I don’t understand the reference to “Leninist will to power”: it seems quite a slander towards Lenin to compare him to these clowns.

    • Murc

      Lenin’s political strategy was to refuse all compromise and in fact actively work to make things worse on the assumption that when things exploded, his faction would be the ones in position to pick up the largest number of pieces.

      To expand on that, the Russian Empire had a long history of co-opting revolutionaries and dissidents it didn’t feel it could simply outright eliminate easily. They’d offer moderate concessions, try to buy people off, things of that nature.

      Lenin’s position was that even if he were offered half a loaf, he would slap it out of their hands, declare the offer an insult, and demand the whole loaf. And also threaten to burn down the bakery.

      • BruceJ

        Maybe Ted Cruz’ name featured prominently on that list of ‘Communists in Harvard’…

      • Manny Kant

        I’d think the most obvious reason the Tsarist regime collapsed is that, unlike, say, Imperial Germany or even Austria-Hungary, is that the Tsarist regime did almost nothing to co-opt revolutionaries, or to try to separate moderates from radicals.

  • Manta

    I think that it is precisely the presence of so many veto points that makes US democracy so successful and stable.

    To expand a bit: the interests of the ruling class are mostly in keeping things as they are: the fact that it is difficult to effect change means that the system is quite good at serving them and therefore they have very little incentive to organize coups.

    • UserGoogol

      The UK has unusually few veto points and it’s been stable for even longer. (I guess the upper classes have an explicit check on power in the House of Lords, but the peerage doesn’t really coincide with the “ruling class.”)

      • guthrie

        WEll certainly not any more, but it did to a large extent as late as the 1970’s. However it is important to remember that for several centuries before that MP’s were often aristocrats, just the sons and nephews and suchlike of the men who were in the house of lords. And of course MP’s were also bourgeousie, whose agenda differeed somewhat from the land owning aristocracy, but were just as interested in keeping the poor down.

  • calling all toasters

    One problem with this scenario: the GOP doesn’t give a shit, and would be perfectly happy with a depression, a collapse of the safety net, and the utter ruin of the US. It’s the best chance that fascists have for taking control.

    • Jeffrey Beaumont

      Do you really believe that? I mean if ultimately one of our two political parties is in fact out to ruin the country explicitly, or at very least install fascism, then we’d better get out the guillotines, no?

      • calling all toasters

        Not really sure guillotines are the answer, but, yes, I do believe they are fascists. Listen to Fox (or any of hundreds of radio wingnuts) and all you hear is the victimization of their people at the hands of the Others and prophecies of doom. Worked pretty good in Serbia and Rwanda for revving up their rednecks. Fortunately, our Teatard friends are entirely too comfortable (and too old) to actually risk anything and our military is too racially mixed to support a coup.

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          “our Teatard friends are entirely too comfortable (and too old) to actually risk anything”

          You say that now, but just wait until the 3rd TeaBagger Hoveround Brigade rolls into town.

          I recommend taking shelter on the second floor of a building without elevators, and stockpiling Metamucil ahead of the inevitable shortages.

    • Timothy Fescue

      Haven’t fascists historically believed in government, though? As in, Dude, at least it’s an ethos!

      What does the Tea Party believe in? Their approach to politics seems to be entirely negative.

      • calling all toasters

        Fascists want to create chaos so the people will support authoritarianism as the alternative. The Tea Party is the incoherent, tribal rabble that serves as the support base for the regime.

        • joe from Lowell

          Indeed.

          The brownshirts didn’t just attack socialists in the streets in order to beat up socialists; they also wanted to turn the streets into battle zones for everyone to see, to discredit the government’s ability to maintain order.

          • Snarki, child of Loki

            …and it ended so well for them!

            • TrexPushups

              Ended even worse for the non-brownshirts.

              • Snarki, child of Loki

                For those brownshirts that survived “The Night of the Long Knives”, yes.

      • BigHank53

        The Tea Party has compartmentalized their thinking: “government” takes their tax dollars and gives it to lazy blahs or homos or illegal immigrants or wastes it on foreign aid to everyone except Israel. All the benefits–farm subsidies, no-bid military contracts, MediCare, Social Security–that they personally receive from the State, however, are merely the just rewards incumbent to Real* Americans, granted by the magic of the free market and the blessings of Saint Reagan.

        These are not rational people.

        *White, male, straight, christian, etc.

    • Davis X. Machina

      Right idea, wrong party.

      The GOP is the last major Leninist parliamentary party in the developed world.

      The organs of the State — Congress, say — exist to serve the interests of the party and not the other way round, because the Party, and not the State, is the Vanguard of the Revolution.

      Upon the successful implementation of the Revolution, the State is actually fated to wither away.

      Until that day comes, though, it’s democratic centralism all the way.

      All power to the soviets of preachers and hedge-fund managers!

      • calling all toasters

        Republicans are only opposed to government when it promotes freedom. If they gain complete control that won’t be an issue any more, and their rhetoric will do a 180 instantly.

  • Royko

    The power to shut down government is more of an advantage to the anti-government party. Obama couldn’t use this even if he wanted to.

  • NewishLawyer

    I suppose this raises the depressing question of “what is the solution?”

    We can’t exactly change to a Parliamentarian system overnight….

    The best path would be if the GOP becomes a rump party in Congress like they (eventually) became a rump party in California and in places like Massachusetts and a bit in New York.

    Though New York had this going on for a long time and might still. There were long stretches when the GOP controlled the NY Senate and the Democratic Party controlled the NY Assembly. The governor ship was largely in Democratic hands with the exception of Pataki.

    • Murc

      The best path would be if the GOP becomes a rump party in Congress like they (eventually) became a rump party in California and in places like Massachusetts and a bit in New York.

      One of the problems with this (and it keeps me up at night) is that in a two-party system, eventually incumbent fatigue takes hold in the electorate and they vote the bums out no matter how insane the opposition is.

      So all you have to do is maintain ideological coherency and twiddle your thumbs, and eventually you’ll be back and can do any crazy thing you want.

      • NewishLawyer

        I think this is true up to a point and you can be right but we shall see.

        On a state level it might be different because of The Big Sort.

        I just can’t see Californian or New York cities voting Republican under any scenario. If such a thing as a Rockefeller Republican existed, I could see Silicon Valley voting for it but not really anywhere else. The Northeast and West Coast (CA, WA, and Oregon) might just be Democratic sandbars but on a national level you could be right and that is depressing.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        When the neo-Whigs self-immolate (speed the day!), I expect that the Democratic party to split in two. Both (mostly) sane, but with “somewhat rightward” and “somewhat leftward” tilts.

        Or perhaps they’ll differ on whether to open eggs at the large or small end.

        • NewishLawyer

          Libertarian Technocrats and Bleeding Hearts?

        • NewishLawyer

          Though part of me questions how soon before the neo-whigs crash and burn and what happens to their hardcore supporters. The Times had an article today about how a lot of super-GOP districts are threatening a primary if their reps stray and compromise. The people interviewed were only 10 or so years my senior and I’m 33. Meaning a lot of people are still very right-wing and relatively young.

          What happens to those super right-wing types? Do they just hold on as a rump party?

          • BigHank53

            It depends on how successful the hard right is at selling the consequences of their actions. If they can default on the debt and get away with it, despite hundreds of thousands of casualties* that will likely result, then what can’t they get away with?

            *Medium-worst case scenario. Do we get the people we buy our heating oil from to take our dollars again in time to heat the upper Midwest? South Dakota has had its first blizzard already. Without petroleum that we don’t own, they die.

        • I think we went through our (most recent) ideological wrestling match and it was the centrist DLC that managed to coalesce us around a more rightward orientation.

          That said, it will flare up again, but I think we’re one or two generations (call it half a century) away from that.

      • eventually incumbent fatigue takes hold in the electorate and they vote the bums out no matter how insane the opposition is.

        I’m not entirely convinced this is the case, but admittedly, there does come a tipping point when the nutbags aren’t repulsive enough to vote in. Still, the sense I get is often the electorate is given an internal choice to replace the incumbent and will opt for that person instead, if at all possible.

        For instance, Rudy Giuliani clearly wore out his welcome and to call Bloomberg a Republican, even by NYC standards, is a stretch, he still ran and won as a Republican in 2001.

  • NewishLawyer

    Come to think of it both New York and California went through long periods where it proved next to impossible to pass a budget by the necessary deadlines/fiscal year.

    These are the states that I’ve resided in. Does or did any other state have similar budget issues?

  • joe from Lowell

    The President’s party can’t pull off this stunt.

    The public’s default mode is to blame the President’s party when things go bad. It has only been through some very careful messaging, and through playing it very safe and reasonable while the GOP acts like lunatics, that Obama has been able to shift the blame for the standoffs onto the minority party.

    If the President were to try to fight fire with fire here, the public would turn on the Democrats in a heartbeat.

    Stunts like this are only available to the party that doesn’t control the White House.

    • efgoldman

      Stunts like this are only available to the party that doesn’t control the White House.

      So true. Forty or so crazy house members or intransigent senators can cause havoc, but they are largely unknown to the wider public, and each represents no more than 1/50 (or 1/435) of the country. But there is only one president, and everyone knows who it is.

  • Chait’s right and he’s also wrong: The Democrats have shown a singular unwillingness to take things as far as their cross-aisle counterparts. Where Republicans filibustered under Clinton like mad dogs, as an example, Democrats were far less likely to engage in such childish tactics. Likewise, once Republicans were back out of the White House, they doubled-down, seeing that the Democrats had no spine for it were statesmen-like and actually interested in helping govern the country.

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