January 17, 2012
In a recent op-editorial, New York Times columnist David Brooks attributes the decline in the attractiveness of liberal philosophy in America to the decline in trust in the government to deliver. As Brooks puts it: “Americans may agree with liberal diagnoses, but they don’t trust the instrument the Democrats use to solve problems. They don’t trust the federal government.” He effectively implies that Americans would opt for a bigger government role if the government could deliver the goods – effective oversight, better education, affordable health care and the like.
His solution is to seriously mitigate the role of special interest groups who unduly influence government decision making to their financial benefit. He suggests that Obama run as ‘someone who believes in government but sees how much it needs to be cleansed and purified’. If the Democrats begin to make processes more transparent and simple, he argues, faith in government will be restored. With faith restored, those who believe in the potential benefits of ‘big government’ will be willing again to vote for those who share these views.
As champions of the benefits of big government, David Brooks argues, it is up to the Democrats to make government work. He is silent on the contributions, or lack thereof, of Republicans to this issue. His observations on the correlation between the decline of Democratic support and the lack of confidence in government per see highlight the essence of the Republican strategy.
Simply put, the party of no has made sure that government does not work and will continue to make it impossible for Obama to make good on any cleansing processes he may propose. Unlike a parliamentary system, our system of government requires compromise in order to work. By refusing to compromise – by compromise I mean meeting the Democrats in the middle --and by abusing filibuster provisions by forcing a sixty vote majority on every Senate decision, the Republicans have effectively emasculated the ability of Democrats to demonstrate that government can be effective.
In the long run this approach may undermine American confidence in the way decisions are reached (or not reached) under our system, eliciting calls for a different form of governance, say one in which government acts in accordance with the expressed will of the majority of voters. In a parliamentary system, the party with the majority of votes controls government decision-making. Under current Senate rules, Senators representing a mere eleven percent of the national population, acting together, could stop any legislation.
Our national government is dysfunctional. Special interests do exert too much power. The Democrats did squander their electoral gains of 2008. The Republicans refuse to effectively cooperate in order to refuse Obama a victory, even when his proposals are consistent with long-standing Republican platforms.
The Republicans have the upper hand. They have muted liberalist support for big government, potentially paving the way for Republican victories at the polls next year where they can continue to downsize entitlement programs. This short-term advantage may prove pyrrhic. Amid all this wrangling, nothing is being done to resolve the nation’s angst over the unequal distribution of wealth and power, its concern over long standing unemployment, or the need to square spending with taxing levels. It is too easy to put the onus on the party of big government. The blame should be shared with those who would see government fail in order advance their political interests. They forget that they are elected, in part, to stand above the fray and serve the greater, American, interest. Destroying American confidence in the role of government moves this country in a direction that is rife with unintended consequences.