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Friday, January 17, 2014

The Big Sort: Scattered Comments on Jacob Javits, Thomas Reed and Harry Reid in the Mirror of History, and the Problem of Parliamentary Navel-Gazing

Adapted and upgraded from the Moot:
Ah, Jacob Javits! A liberal lion in the Republican Party -- working class, too offended by Tammany corruption to join the Democratic Party, but partnered with Democrats to implement civil rights and Great Society programs.

The Big Sort since 1965 -- that is a term Bill Bishop uses to describe the divisive clustering of like-minded Americans via many sociocultural avenues, but I prefer Steve Kornacki's more insistent emphasis in his use of the term on the shift to ideological consistency over more traditional historical and geopolitical affiliations as the organizing principle of the two parties -- definitely made Jesusland monolithically red while the urbanized coasts went monolithically blue. So, no more Jacob Javits in the GOP, just killer clowns as far as the eye can see.

It really is too bad that our faction-averse Founders pretended parties wouldn't emerge and wrote a Constitution for diverse contingent coalition-building among opinionated individuals seeking fame (Congresscritters immediately clumped into factions filled with secretive wheeler-dealers gaming the rules rather as one would expect) rather than a more parliamentary model of legislation assigning responsibilities and blame for the actual results of party platforms more legibly for voters to judge the record by.

You know, while I am one of many who rail about the outrageously irresponsible, historically unprecedented Senate Republican obstruction throughout the Obama Presidency, and this really is strictly true of the senate at least if you squint, it is also true that minority obstructionism has been a problem many times in our history, indeed a problem exacerbated to the point of crisis. Battles over the extension of slavery to new territories and over Reconstruction are well know on this score. But the situation in the last decade of the nineteenth century of that great mean wit and Republican Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed (Czar Reed! as he was known by racist Southern Democrats back in the day) and his elimination of the procedural gimmick of the "disappearing quorum" as a de facto Democratic minority filibuster of progressive legislation is very instructive as well for those contemplating Reid's troubles with Republicans in our Senate today.

As many political scientists have pointed out, if the executive ticket included the Leader of the House and treated the vice-president as Senate majority leader this would probably be enough to disincentivize the worst obstruction strategies by the minority our Constitutional system is prone to.

But of course, like intellectual masturbation about deliverance via third parties, daydreams of parliamentary reform of Constitutional powers is a waste of time: This is because the political fight to change institutions to better solve problems would be as hard and probably harder as fights go than actually fighting to solve the problems themselves even with the present dysfunctional institutions. Hence, a focus on institutional fixes to the electoral college, the party duopoly, or to address anti-democratic distribution of power to congressional minorities or rural over urban states, for example, is almost always a functional distraction enabling the continuance of the problems in the form of expressing metaconcern about the context in which the problems flourish so that the problems flourish all the more. It seems to me intellectuals are especially prone to falling for tricks of this kind.

Anyway, I'm rambling. But these are interesting topics.

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