12 Dec 2009

Ungovernable America

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Prominent liberal blogger Matt Yglesias is finding that American democracy isn’t working out his way these days, and announces that it’s time to change the rules.

The smarter elements in Washington DC are starting to pick up on the fact that it’s not tactical errors on the part of the president that make it hard to get things done, it’s the fact that the country has become ungovernable. …

You can have a system in which a defeated minority still gets a share of governing authority and participates constructively in the victorious majority’s governing agenda, shaping policy around the margins in ways more to their liking. Or you can have a system in which a defeated minority rejects the majority’s governing agenda out of hand, seeks opening for attack, and hopes that failure on the part of the majority will bring them to power. But right now we have both simultaneously. It’s a system in which the minority benefits if the government fails, and the minority has the power to ensure failure. It’s insane, and it needs to be changed.

You can see just how badly they taught Civics at Dalton and at Harvard. Mr. Yglesias is clearly unaware that the basic role of the Senate as conceived by the framers was to obstruct the will of the majority and to prevent majorities tyrannizing over the minority.

In Federalist Paper 63, James Madison writes:

I shall not scruple to add, that such an institution may be sometimes necessary as a defense to the people against their own temporary errors and delusions. As the cool and deliberate sense of the community ought, in all governments, and actually will, in all free governments, ultimately prevail over the views of its rulers; so there are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn. In these critical moments, how salutary will be the interference of some temperate and respectable body of citizens, in order to check the misguided career, and to suspend the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind? What bitter anguish would not the people of Athens have often escaped if their government had contained so provident a safeguard against the tyranny of their own passions? Popular liberty might then have escaped the indelible reproach of decreeing to the same citizens the hemlock on one day and statues on the next.

One Feedback on "Ungovernable America"


Its both frightening and humorous that an educated man, like Mr Yglesias, can at one time present an idea as old as Rome and as dangerous to freedom, that has the potential to bring ruin on so many people, an idea that the founding fathers clearly saw and provided a defense against in the Constitution; and, at the same time, humorous that he can present it with the wide-eyed wonder of a fifth grader with a truely new and “speaking Truth to power” insight.


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