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There Are No Shortcuts


A distinguished, if long-dead, philosopher has dropped into our comment section to make a very important point:

Because multi-party systems are much more democratically responsive? Coalition building is at least as frustrating as the Democratic Party. In Germany, if you don’t like the too-centrist-and-neoliberal SPD, you get to vote for either a party that everyone else refuses to have anything to do with and has no measurable impact on public policy, or a party that’s not really big enough to form a majority coalition with the SPD! Good stuff!!!

The reason progressive change is hard is because progressive change is hard, not because of structural problems with the electoral system. And the structural problems in American government have much more to do with the Senate’s inherent small state bias and terrible traditions; and with the way the uneven distribution of population gives Republicans an advantage in the House; than it does with having two parties.

Exactly right. This is one issue I have with the focus on electoral reforms (particularly advocates of PR; approval or runoff voting would ensure that third party voting won’t produce irrational results but probably not produce much third party representation.) Again, I don’t see what problem this is supposed to solve. The fundamental issues with achieving liberal reform are that 1)there aren’t enough liberals, and 2)there are many structural features of American government that favor reactionary interests. Third parties do nothing about #1 and would probably make #2 worse. I’m not even sure that PR would provide much value to narcissists who don’t like to sully themselves by being part of a broader coalition. (Not that we should care anyway.) Either the Magic Pony party won’t be part of the governing coalition and will achieve nothing, which will prove the weakness and lack of will of individual members, or they will collaborate with more moderate parties, in which case they’re sellouts.

Jon Walker’s attempt to defend a version of Frank/West runs into similar problems:

While people often overstate the power of the Presidency, continuing to pretend the filibuster was an insurmountable hurdle is just plain silly. As we saw just last year when Democrats changed the rules regarding executive nominees, a simple majority of senators can easily amend or completely eliminate this minor procedural issue.

I’m not upset Obama couldn’t get Snowe to play nice — I’m disappointed he actively refused to go around her. For example Democrats could have used reconciliation to adopt a larger stimulus with only a simple majority, or just eliminated the filibuster. This is exactly what George W. Bush did to get his tax cut when a Senate minority tried to stand in the way.

First of all, we have a classic botch from the files of Drew Westen; the filibuster was irrelevant to the Bush tax cuts because budget bills can’t be filibustered. Republicans did not have to change any congressional procedures to get their tax cuts through. That aside, note the fancy shuffling here between “Obama” and “the Democratic Party.” What Obama can do to abolish the filibuster is “nothing.” Having someone who was very recently a backbencher make a public case that senior senators should give up their prerogatives could not have helped and almost certainly have been very damaging. The idea that the filibuster is a product of presidential will is a parody of green lanternism.

It is trivially true that the “Democratic Party” refused to abolish the filibuster. But this just re-states the problem. If there were 60 senators who were staunch liberals and unconcerned with their institutional self-interest, the filibuster wouldn’t be a significant barrier in the first place. (And remember that this is a multidimensional problem; there were/are senators like Leahy and Feingold who are institutional conservatives even if they aren’t ideological conservatives.) And if Walker has a magic formula for getting staunch liberals elected in Nebraska and Louisiana and Missouri etc. etc. he isn’t revealing it. Assuming can openers isn’t a solution to anything.

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