Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Beautiful dialogues

I want to highlight two recent dialogues that have been fascinating and quite enlightening for people interested in politics. The first is Ezra Klein's dialogue with Matt Miller. Miller recently wrote an article urging a third party candidacy for the presidency (an idea Hans Noel and I have picked on before), and Klein responded with this piece. Their current dialogue is far-reaching, but generally focuses on the idea of speeches versus institutions; Miller believes that an inspiring speech from a candidate untied to the current party system could change the way things are done, and Klein believes that Miller's approach totally misunderstands and misrepresents how American politics actually works. A highlight from Klein:
People in this country have different roles in the political process. And you and I have a particular one. And our particular one is to inform people, to try to explain to people how things are working and how they’re not working, and to give them a realistic idea of why. I talk to business leaders, too, and I talk to a lot of people in American politics. I talk to a lot of politicians. I talk to pundits. I talk to cable news people. I talk to all of them. And I almost never meet the structural pessimist, actually. All I meet, as far as I can tell, are people who think we just need more “leadership.” We need a president willing to stand up and fight. We need a leader who will finally take advantage of the moment and push this country forward. We need somebody willing to make the tough choices. And I find it borderline irresponsible.
Klein also mentions the dangers of a center-left presidential candidate for those who care about liberal policy goals.
Let’s say that Barack Obama runs against Rick Perry and against Matt Miller’s candidate. Do you think there is no risk in a world where Matt Miller’s candidate gets 22 percent of the vote, a remarkable showing, and throws the election to Rick Perry? You don’t think that is a risk at all?
Hans Noel has been mentioning this possibility a lot recently, and it deserves more attention than it's gotten.

Anyway, loyal readers of this blog will know that I'm partial to Klein's arguments, but it's a really informative dialogue, and if you have relatives who sound more like Miller (as I do), you'll want to learn this stuff before Thanksgiving.

Okay, dialogue number two: John Sides' discussion with.. well... himself, in preparation for a panel last night with some serious political elites on the topic of whether American politics is broken. Sides addresses the most important question: what do we mean by "broken"? Political observers love to claim that the system is broken, but they rarely explain what they mean, and the meaning has important consequences:
Q: What does “broken politics” mean?
A: People tend to mean one of two things. First, the political process is broken. Complaints about process involve different things—incivility, hyper-partisanship, gridlock, and so on. This is a complaint about means to ends. Second, they mean that the political system is unable to reach certain ends, which means people’s preferred policies. So politics is broken when the government can’t pass certain pieces of legislation, for example.
Q: Why does this distinction matter?
A: For two reasons. First, I think complaints about broken politics tend to involve the latter more than the former. Even when people complain about process, their complaints typically arise because their policy goals have been stymied. Complaints about gridlock usually don’t mean that people want just any policy to pass; they want their preferred policy to pass. Second, the two meanings of “broken politics” can imply very different solutions. If your concern is incivility or partisanship, then your solution is more consensual forms of decision-making. If your concern is policy, then you may not necessarily need to care about process. The easiest way to enact landmark legislation is often (mostly?) to get large partisan majorities and leverage their power, even at the risk of incivility or hyper-partisanship.
I give the Enik Gold Seal to both pieces. Please read.


metrichead said...

What criteria do I need to meet to earn the Enik Gold Seal?

Seth said...

That's classified.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I'm not very convinced that "the process is broken" concerns are simply a matter of policy dissatisfaction.

People lose on policy points in all sorts of other forums, e.g. the U.S. Supreme Court, or the regulatory process, and don't make the same kinds of complaints.

Instead, I think an essential source of dissatisfaction with the process is particular to how Congress works. Congressional decision making in hotly contested cases is frequently made through pure negotiation where any one of two or more factions can veto the result, rather than being made through an appearance, at least, of rational discussion leading to a decision that can be mandated on the basis of authority.

All of the least popular professions in society (car salesmen, lawyers and politicians, for example) are particularly distinguished because they are professional negotiators who reach unprincipled resolutions of important issues. The most respected professions in society almost never engage in negotiations that the public sees.

People (subconsciously at least) want a process in which pros and cons are discussed rationally and civilly, evaluated on their merits, and then resolved publicly via a Robert's Rules of Order process as it works in a unicameral body. Congress doesn't work remotely like that. Floor debate is a sham. Bicameralism prevents deterministic operation of majoritarian processes (together with factors like the filibuster and the Presidential veto), and lobbyists are perceived as winning based on money and connections rather than the strength of their ideas.

metrichead said...

I should send you a copy of my Thesis. It was entitled: "YEEE-OUCH!! THEM PINS IS POINTY!!!"

I now have a Master of Public Administration from Eastern Michigan.

Wanna read it? I think it's Enik Gold Seal-Worthy.

Seth said...

I dare say, I'm intrigued.