Did the Founding Fathers Screw Up?

The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation," Franklin Roosevelt declared as he campaigned for the presidency in the spring of 1932. "It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."

Most of the experiments Roosevelt tried to rebuild the economy once he took office encountered fierce opposition. But his closing admonition -- try something -- transcends our political particularities. It's an affirmation of a specifically American common sense, a statement of our national inclination to action, an affirmation of the pragmatism that remains the country's signal contribution to philosophy. In times of trouble, try something. Who could be against that?

Yet, three years into the worst recession since Roosevelt's time, a countercurrent, every bit as American as our bias for action, has swept over us. Twenty-five million Americans are either unemployed or underemployed, and the average duration of joblessness stands at record highs. Consumers are too deep in debt to consume; our producers produce and our investors invest abroad. To remedy all this, the federal government today tries ... nothing.

Washington has ground to a halt, paralyzed by a political division deeper than any we have seen since the days when Abraham Lincoln warned that a house divided against itself cannot stand. "Nothing" also isn't doing much to commend the American way to other countries. Much of the developing world now sees China and its model of capitalist authoritarianism as more efficient than the creaky workings of democracy. Nations still marvel at the United States, but today, it's our gridlock that draws the world's wonder.

It shouldn't. The current impasse between the Republican House and the Democratic president and Senate has only highlighted what is a chronic -- indeed, constitutional -- condition: Just as the American people have a bias for action, the American government has a bias for stasis. Governmental gridlock is as American as apple pie.

Those who defend our system concede -- indeed, exult -- that it places roadblocks in the path of major policy shifts. When the nation faces a genuine crisis, they argue, our government invariably rises to the occasion, as it did in Roosevelt's time. Unfortunately, that's a selective reading of our history. One hundred and fifty years ago, our government was not up to the task of holding the union together. Today, as the Great Recession grinds on, the different branches of government cannot agree on a course of action.

The root cause of all this inactivity is our peculiar form of democracy. While most democracies are governed by parliamentary systems, our Founders opted for a presidential system, which they consciously booby-trapped with multiple veto points to impede decisive legislative action and sweeping social change.

In America, for instance, presidents take office, but they don't form a government, as prime ministers do in virtually every other democracy. Presidents can form no more than an executive branch. They appoint cabinet members, sub-cabinet officials, military commanders, ambassadors, and the heads of regulatory agencies. They don't appoint congressional leaders; often as not, their party may not control either or both houses of Congress. Indeed, the White House, the Senate, and the House have been controlled by the same party during just 8 of the past 30 years. Even when the same party holds Congress and the presidency, the system still fragments power.

Presidents and congresses are elected not merely independently but at different times and by different electorates. After a midterm election in the United States, no members of the House and only one-third of the senators hold their seats by virtue of having won them in the same election that brought the president to power. The president and the Congress each have separate but equal claims to power and legitimacy. Thus a government divided between a president of one party and a Congress of another, political scientist Juan Linz observes, can reach an impasse for which "there is no democratic principle on the basis of which it can be resolved."

That's why nations with presidential systems, not parliamentary ones, Linz continues, have been more prone to military takeovers, which occur most frequently when civilian governments have reached just such an impasse. The United States is the sole presidential-system nation to have avoided this, Linz concludes, chiefly due to "the uniquely diffuse character of American political parties." Were our parties not so diffuse, were they ideological and uncompromising, our normal bouts of gridlock could escalate into a crisis -- which is precisely what's happened since the Republican Party was captured by the Tea Party. In a parliamentary system, though, the Tea Party would likely be a separate party, just one among many, like Le Pen's ultra-nationalists in France, that could be excluded from the governing coalition.

What makes parliamentary democracy more responsive, and more efficient, than presidential democracy is that its executive and legislative branches are unified. A party's legislative candidates all seek office in the same election on the same platform. The winning party's leader becomes prime minister, either because his party has won a majority of the parliamentary seats or because his party forms a bloc with another party or parties that together make up the majority. All power to both pass and administer laws under this system resides with the parliamentary majority.

To be sure, this unification of power can come at a cost. In a presidential system, it's easier for the branches of government to check the misdeeds of other branches, as Congress did during Watergate. In parliamentary systems, the capacity for swift and sweeping mistakes is every bit as great as the ability to do good -- something that the austerity budget of Britain's current Tory-led government demonstrates with each passing day. Parliamentary systems can fragment power, too, especially if, like Israel's Knesset, they are filled with small, factional parties that win seats because the minimum vote threshold for legislative representation is so low. But for all the imperfections of parliamentary democracy, it is the system that nearly all democracies have chosen, including the nations of Eastern Europe that could and did comparison shop once the Soviet empire collapsed.

The reason for such near unanimity becomes clear when we look at America's difficulties in achieving universal health insurance. Writing shortly after President Bill Clinton's failure to secure passage of a national health system, political scientists Sven Steinmo and Jon Watts argued that what made national health insurance so much more difficult to enact in the U.S. than in other democracies wasn't a greater level of opposition but our form of democracy. "Doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, business interests and conservative political forces generally fought bitterly to prevent national health care insurance in every country in which national health care policies eventually emerged," they wrote. But control of the legislature by parties committed to national health guaranteed that the plans were enacted nonetheless. Britain's national health program, Steinmo and Watts noted, emerged from negotiations among the bill's supporters -- cabinet ministers of the Labour Party government, which had been swept into power in 1945. That's a far cry from Harry Reid's agreeing to strip the public option from the 2010 health-reform bill to win Joe Lieberman's vote.

While Labour needed only a majority of Parliament to enact national health insurance, progressive reform in our system requires the alignment of both houses of Congress with the president, the appeasement of committee chairs, and, since the Republicans began insisting upon it, a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate. Roosevelt took office with a huge popular mandate and a massive congressional majority. His plan, though, to include national health insurance within Social Security -- a position that commanded widespread support -- fell victim to powerful Southern Democratic congressional committee chairs, who threatened to derail Social Security itself if he insisted on it.

By the time Barack Obama became president, the Dixiecrats had migrated to the Republican Party. Even though Obama's Democrats, purged of Southern reactionaries, had large majorities in both houses of Congress, the Southernized Republican Party invoked the demand for a 60-vote supermajority at every turn, a hurdle that neither the public option in Obama's health-care reform nor stricter bank regulation in the Dodd-Frank bill were able to clear.

Other reform presidents with popular mandates and control of Congress didn't get nearly as far as Roosevelt and Obama. In 1949, Southern Democrats, angered by Harry Truman's desegregation of the armed forces and other moves toward racial egalitarianism, killed his plan for national health insurance, though Truman had just won election -- and the Democrats had retaken both houses of Congress -- running on that issue. During Jimmy Carter's presidency, the Democrats' multiple plans for health insurance were thwarted by the ongoing struggles between Carter and leading congressional Democrats. Bill Clinton's campaign for universal health coverage also fell victim to internal Democratic disputes and the Senate's 60-vote threshold.

Absent a near national consensus on a broad program, wrote Lloyd Cutler, who served as White House counsel for both Carter and Clinton, "it has not been possible for any modern president to 'form a government' that could legislate and carry out his overall program. Yet modern government has to respond promptly to a wide range of new challenges. Its responses cannot be limited to those for which there is a large consensus induced by some great crisis."

The problem, Cutler concluded, was the Constitution. More bluntly, the Founding Fathers got it wrong.

 

***

 

The men who drafted our governing document came to Philadelphia in 1787 to establish an effective national government, something that the Articles of Confederation had plainly failed to do. However, they brought with them two distinct but interconnected fears, which ultimately kept them from achieving their goal. Disproportionately drawn from the de facto aristocracy of pre-Revolutionary America, they feared that a new class of leaders -- the farmers and artisans who were increasingly represented in state and local governments -- was elevating parochial concerns over the general good in the business of lawmaking. Among the delegates, writes historian Sean Wilentz, "fears of a tyrannical demos were pervasive." By entrusting the election of the new Senate to state legislatures and that of the president to an electoral college, they meant to populate the new national government with (and by) men like themselves.

The other fear that suffused the drafters' deliberations was that of faction. By "faction," James Madison, the Constitution's primary author, wrote in Federalist No. 10, "I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed [sic] to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community."

In England, nearly to the end of the 17th century, factions had risen and been put down generally by force. By 1787, however, the factions in England were peaceable, if still embryonic, political parties, whose nonviolent nature had not yet rendered them respectable, and most certainly not to the Constitution's drafters.

Factions naturally arise, Madison wrote, and cannot in a democratic republic rightly be suppressed. The task of government thus became "controlling [their] effects." A minority faction could simply be defeated by majority vote. But when the faction was a majority? That was trickier. For that, Madison and his fellow drafters turned to Montesquieu, the French political philosopher (the "oracle," as Madison termed him in Federalist No. 47).

Montesquieu's remedy for the scourge of majority sovereignty was a separation of governmental powers into competing entities that could check one another. Were the executive power to be chosen by the legislature, he wrote, "there would be an end then of liberty." This was a curious assessment, since in England, which Montesquieu claimed as his model, the emerging executive power, the prime minister, was already a creature of Parliament. (Montesquieu was more interested in reporting on what he thought should be rather than what actually was.) In Montesquieu's vision, the checks were everything, while action was a sometime thing at best. The triumvirate of king, lords, and commons, he wrote, "would naturally form a state of repose or inaction. But as there is a necessity for movement in the course of human affairs, they are forced to move, but still in concert."

But suppose they are forced to move -- say, by the necessity of raising the debt ceiling -- and can't get themselves in concert? What then? Repose? Recriminations?

To the Founders, writing in the shadow of Montesquieu, power -- no matter how democratically won and exercised -- had to be fragmented. "In republican government," Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, "the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions ... will admit." If that slows down the legislative process, so much the better. "In the legislature," wrote Alexander Hamilton, the most important drafter of and advocate for the Constitution after Madison, "promptitude of decision is oftener an evil than a benefit."

Mr. Hamilton, meet Max Baucus.

Just four years after they had co-authored the Federalist Papers, Hamilton and Madison had become leaders of the new nation's two rival parties -- respectively, the Federalists and the Republicans. From denouncing the evils of faction, they had moved on to heading up America's factions. They had, however, left in their wake a government with so many divisions of and checks to power that they came close to stifling majority rule.

 

***

 

America has paid a price for going first -- for drafting its Constitution a half-century before the commitment to majority rule and the idea of universal suffrage (which meant universal white-male suffrage) became widely accepted. Institutions established to protect both the aristocratic phobias and the slave-holding interests of late 18th-century America -- the Electoral College, the state-based Senate -- have outlived purposes that have long since been forgotten. Yet they govern us still.

No region has been more defined by a fear of majority rule than the South. As the interests of the increasingly industrial North and the Southern slavocracy grew more divergent in the 1830s, the South's political and intellectual leader, John C. Calhoun, put forth the theory of nullification. According to Calhoun, national legislation could not take effect unless it cleared an insuperable hurdle: ratification by legislatures in every one of the states. Majority-rule governments, Calhoun insisted, are inherently oppressive -- a viewpoint that the aged Madison indignantly rejected, writing that it would "overturn the first principle of free Govt."

Calhoun's immediate concern was tariffs that would disadvantage the South, but his deeper concern was slavery, which he feared a Northern majority would one day try to abolish. Anti-majoritarianism came naturally in Calhoun's South Carolina, one of only two states (the other was Mississippi) in which slaves outnumbered the white population. Repressing majorities has long been the linchpin of the white South's politics -- obstructing majority rule through the claim of states' rights, suppression of black (and now Latino) voting, control of congressional committee chairmanships, and the filibuster. It's worth noting that the filibuster emerged as the Republicans' favored tactic only when the Republican Party became centered in the white South. In their efforts to use all the tools of divided government to negate first Bill Clinton's and then Barack Obama's majorities, Republicans have inherited the spirit, if not the theories, of Calhoun.

So what to do? A constitutional convention to rewrite our governing document would unleash every bat in America's political belfry. More modest changes, though, remain in the realm of the possible, and others, while not on anyone's agenda now, might be put there with some proselytizing.

The two reforms with the most support -- ending the filibuster and abolishing the Electoral College -- would do nothing to curtail the fragmentation of power within the federal government, but both would limit minorities' ability to reduce the sway of majorities. Another reform that would create a more representative government would be to change the timing of elections and the terms of congressional office. Presidential contests draw far more votes than midterm congressional ones: From 1984 through 2008, turnout in presidential elections has ranged from 53 percent of eligible adults to 62 percent, while turnout in midterm elections from 1986 through 2010 has ranged from 39 percent to 42 percent. If House members were given four-year terms coterminous with the president's, they would be answerable to the same larger electorate. This, of course, would also be true of senators. These wouldn't be parliamentary elections -- the candidates for president, senator, and representative would still be elected separately -- but at least our elected officials would all derive their power from the identical and most broadly representative electorate.

Although the federal government can't go parliamentary, why can't the states? Maintaining two legislative bodies at the state level has been pointless for the past 50 years, ever since the Supreme Court's one-person, one-vote decisions; those rulings required state Senate districts, once apportioned by geographical unit (such as counties), to be apportioned by population, just as lower-house districts are. Talk about duplication and waste in government! Nebraska has long had a unicameral legislature. There's no good reason why 49 other states shouldn't follow suit. Nor is there a reason why at least a few more compact and homogenous states -- Vermont? Oregon? Utah? -- can't go one step further to a parliamentary system. Two and a quarter centuries after the Philadelphia convention, America should be ready for some small-scale experiments in majority rule.

In the age of globalization, governmental systems are pitted, inescapably and willy-nilly, against one another. Over the past decade, it's grown harder to argue that American democracy has been delivering for its people as well as China's Leninist capitalism has for the Chinese. By the measure of economic growth, a smart authoritarian elite beats a self-negating democratic republic four days out of five. The world looks at us and sees only contentious repose.

Americans angered by the failures of our political system should be angered at the failures of our governmental system as well. The problem isn't that we're too democratic. It's that we're not democratic enough.

Comments

We tend to quickly get impatient and get desperate to change things. That tends to lead to doing things that look good in the short term, not in the long term.

Harold seems to ignore when the Democrats controlled it all and they couldn't even get their own party to buy into their radical agenda. THe FOunding Fathers had the electoral college 100% right to preserve the differances between states sizes. Otherwise all a candidate for Pres needs to do is campaign in the big cities in the big states to get elected. THe less populas states will never count and will be ingored. The Democrats love this idea because they often control the big cities as a result of giving the poor and unions everything they want on the government credit card. THe Dems then never have to be fiscally responsible. I'll take the gridlock and the COnstitution which the Democrats consider a worthless piece of paper.

I know I won't get an honest answer, but how long do you think President Obama would last on Commons Question time? Do you think he would be Prime Minister in a parliamentarian system? I find it fascinating that you did not use the word "republic" once in this lengthy piece. Good try. Wrong. "If only we adopted the European parliamentarian system and a little Leninist (!!!) capitalism, then we wouldn't have to bother with these marginalized Tea Partiers who are spoiling all the good things all the smart people want to do!" Great claim. Not. God I'm sick of reading things by people like you.

I, for one, am always grateful when a "progressive" clearly articulates his disdain for what made our great nation the envy of the world (Constitution + capitalism + Judeo-Christian values) and his infatuation with the abject failures of past "progressives" (the New Deal, etc.). I think there must be some gene missing in these poor persons' minds ... they are simply incapable of understanding Federalism and other critical mechanisms put in place by the Founding Fathers. Or, if they do understand, they are simply convinced that they are more intelligent and/or wiser than Hamilton, Madison, et. al. Please try to get over slavery, my poor "prog" friends ....

The constitution does exactly what was intended.  Our system of government was not designed to improve the people.  It was designed to do nothing unless there was general agreement by the people over several election cycles.  The electoral college was created to give the president a different base of support than congress such that if congress was given over to factionalism, the president would not be beholden to them and would be able to veto their misguided legislation.  Our government was designed to be ruled by the consistent opinion of the people and not the reverse.

This is one dumb motherfucker.

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb discussing what's for dinner

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding what's for dinner.

There's been quite a few stories lately of prominent Democrats and liberals arguing for something akin to dictatorship to solve America's problems. Talk about true colors shining through.

Please- move to China if you think your life will be better there.

I get a kick out of academics and journalists that think the Constitution would be so much better if we just enacted their ideas. Usually, these are schemes that would facilitate the growth of government and diminish individual liberty. What these neo-founders believe that there is not a single problem that an all powerful Federal Government can't solve. We usually see these "We can make ever better if we just enact my ideas" articles when the left can't push through it's agenda. The beauty of the form of government the Founders gave us is that change is slow. Anyone who thinks that we would have more unity if either side was able to ram through it's agenda every four years is delusional. Do you really think the Civil War would have been avoided if Northern Abolitionists or Southern slave holders were able to impose their agenda on the other in the antebellum years?

Silliness and an absence of consequences.

If America had a parliamentary government, Obamacare could not have passed and any attempt to ram it down our throats would have resulted in a vote of no-confidence and the fall of Obama's gov. A parliamentary system also would not have provided a strong dollar as has been written many times. And, of course, had a parliamentary democracy resulted in a far smaller defense budget, as it likely would have, ALL of W Europe would have had to make a guns/butter choice we (unfortunately) allowed them to avoid, leaving not one Western nation other than America able to defend itself... Or the non-implementation of their silly and unsustainable social welfare systems.

Libs like to pretend that they'd get all they want if America were only smart enough to have parliamentary systems. They always ignore that those same systems neither defended nor kept the peace for half-a-century. There's a reason fir that: they are inherently unstable.

The U.S.  is the most successful nation in the history of the planet.  China's growth has been phenomenal, but it has a long way to go to catch up to the U.S., and there are cracks in its system.  And should we change our system for theirs and risk a cultural revolution?  Or a Tienamen square?  Only the insane would do that.  Yes the dictators and tyrants of the world clearly prefer the abilty to grow their economies at the rate China has while maintaining total power over the lives of their people.  Let them go that way, not us!  The problem the U.S. faces now isn't our Constitution, it's the fact that we elected an inexperienced, inept, incompetent,  extreme left wing ideologue, who has tried to force his extreme left wing agenda down the nation's throat no matter how badly he damages the economy, or how many millions his policies put throw onto the UNEMPLOYMENT line.  Hillary told us we were making a mistake, but people wanted to believe Obama's lies.  Well to the frustration of the extreme left our system is limiting the damage that Obama can continue to inflict and moving to reject him for his failures and the massive damage he's done to our nation.  That is at it should be!  Any system can make a terrible mistake, but ours is self correcting.   Our Constitution and our System are working!

Wrong? Only to those who want to elect demigods to enact sweeping social change. Our government structure very delibertely limits federal power to act unless a reasonable majority of the citizens acree on the course. The primary purpose of our constitution is to LIMIT FEDERAL POWER OVER OUR LIVES.  Those complaining about the current stte of our democracy are angry primarily because, thankfully, they don't have access to the power they want to coerce the rest of us into following their edicts. Thank you founding fathers!

The root cause is supreme court fraud when it comes to green lighting congress under the tortured commerce clause. See the proof why the court is not merely "interpreting" law when it comes to the commerce clause:

The big problem is party politics. George Washington warned against the danger of political parties.  Smart guy, eh?

USE AS DIRECTED for satisfactory results.

We have the best Federal Constitution ever devised by man and our failure is one of not following the instructions by the manufacture.

The 10th Amendment directs the Federal governments role as ONLY that which is enumerated in the Constitution and all the rest left to the States or the People.

This affirms the sovereignty of each State and Individual to conduct their own affairs as they see fit. Each State and its citizens operate they way they choose not as a central government directs.

If this would be followed there would be little big divisions in a Federal government concerned with trade, defense and keeping the peace between the states. There would be no gridlock.

It is not logical to have 435 representatives and 100 senators dictating policy to 308 million Americans. You are guaranteed division and gridlock.

USE AS DIRECTED.

These so-called "inefficiencies" are actually anti-impulsive and anti-despotic measures.  They are one of the best features of the Constitution and the governance envisioned by it.  In fact these anti-impulsive measures are the highest mark of genius and have thus far largely prevented despotism.  The imperial presidency that has been evolving along with a fitful personality cult of the president since the election of 1960 is a danger to the American republic and American freedom.  Mr. Meyerson's call to "do something" even if it is wrong is certainly lamentable.  Think, then act should be our motto.  Meyerson seems to be of the ready, fire, aim school of thought(?).

"Over the past decade, it’s grown harder to argue that American democracy has been delivering for its people as well as China’s Leninist capitalism has for the Chinese."

China's Leninist capitalism? Oh please stop it.  Here's a question for you - maybe top-down, government knows best, involvement in the economy (creating sub-primes, forcing banks to make loans, having the government pick try to pick winners and losers such as Soyndra) is not the best way to do things. Maybe Hayek was right and Keynes was wrong. Just maybe.

www  theclassicalliberal com

"Over the past decade, it’s grown harder to argue that American democracy has been delivering for its people as well as China’s Leninist capitalism has for the Chinese."
 
China's Leninist capitalism? Oh please stop it.  Here's a question for you - maybe top-down, government knows best, involvement in the economy (creating sub-primes, forcing banks to make loans, having the government pick try to pick winners and losers such as Soyndra) is not the best way to do things. Maybe Hayek was right and Keynes was wrong. Just maybe.

We don't need to re-write the Constitution...We need to re-read the Constitution!  The most perfect document that man has ever created.

Nice try, Meyerson.

It is clear progressives will be swept from office in a 2012 tsunami that will make the 2010 midterms seem like a ripple in a bathtub.  So, of course, what's Plan B for the Soros/Obama Agenda?

Why, change the rules, of course.  When you cannot win the game, change the rules until you win!  But you just cannot have Obama or any democratic congressman make such a suggestion.  The backlash would likely lead to recalls and/or impeachment.  Too risky!

So what's a poor progressive to do?

Here's the plan...
1) you have a significant political player broach the subject of, say, postponing elections--to buy Obama time so the country has a chance to heal!  Yeah, that's it!  And it won't work using any old state-level pol.  Too easy to dismiss the idea and the person as a lunatic on the fringe.  So you need a bigger player to lend the notion some credibility to get rule changes into the national dialogue.  But who?  They cannot be too close to the Beltway since you don't want any potential political meltdowns to metastasize back to congressional dems or, horrors, the Prez.  Someone, say, like Bev Perdue!

2) Of course, once she brings it up, her political team concocts some lame cover like--it was a joke! Ha! Ha!  Get it???!

3) But then you need follow up.  Which, of course, is the province of the progressive lap dogs that make up the "mainstream media"!  So Soros/Obama handpicks some columnists with supposed gravitas--such as ol' Harry here--to take the next step and come out with an epiphanic treatise on how this old democracy-stuff is soooo out-of-date and out-of-touch.

4) and then, as Meyerson tosses out his seed of progressive ice-nine, a grand "ah-woom!" of epic proportions sweeps the country as rational, thinking men & women are snapped back into reality thereby sweeping in a New Age of Progressive Authoritarianism with Soros and Obama at the helm. (*Please note the analogy had to be more conducive to liberals since "... and then a miracle happens" isn't likely to resonate with the base.)

Just think... Hitler almost pulled off world domination, and he didn't even have nuclear weapons!

Ah, George Soros's wet dreams of storm trooper boots on everyone's necks marches ever on!

Have a nice day!

No worries. Once we get rid of Obama and people like him in congress in 2012, you will be wishing for gridlock, because all the stupid leftist policies will be tossed into the trash heap where they belong.
"Gridlock" is the only thing stopping Obama from making things worse. Thank God for it.

Our failure to implement universal health care over the years connotes a failure on the part of our founders to commission a sustainable democracy? That's a big leap.

Why should the GOP willingly compromise with socialists?  The only good news if Obama wins reelection is that he will be a lame duck from Day One. That is incredibly comforting.

Comrade Meyerson lust for rule by a"smart authoritarian elite" is pretty clear. But Meyerson's description of the Chinese system as Leninist is ludicrous.

True, after driving Russia to starvation and economic collapse under war communism, Lenin allowed small temporary capitalist enterprizes so that Bolshevik power could survive.But the State  held on to the "commanding heights" of the economy. Futhermore, it was Lenin's plan to move to full collectivization as soon as his power was stabilized. Lenin's death left it to Stalin to enforce that enormous human tragedy.

Lenin was an economic fool like Mao.Both following an even greater fool, Marx.  The current Chinese system is a product of Deng,not Marx, Lenin, or Mao.

If the Democratic Party,lawyers,and unions do not strangle the American free enterprize system, we will always out create the "Communist" Chinese.

Comrade M's nostalgia for Lenin, Mao, Marx, and may be Stalin is sad.

Leninist capitalism beats beats a democratic republic economically?  Maybe.  I guess you'd have to ask the 60-75 million Chinese that were sacrificed to achieve this utopia if it was worth it.  I think I prefer the system designed by men who understood the need to protect, not the government from the people, but the people from the government.

YOU IGNORANT PIECE OF IIBERAL CRAP... AMERICA BECAME THE GREATEST NATION ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH BY NOT BEING LIKE THOSE EUROPEAN SCUMBAGS...IN CASE YOU FORGOT , AMERICA WAS STARTED BY THOSE THAT LEFT THE LIEBRAL SOCIALIST SHITBAG NATIONS AND CAME HERE TO BE FREE, THE ONLY PROBLEM WE HAVE IS YOU WORTHLESS, LAZY DO NOTHING SOCIALIST WHACKJOB SHITBRAIND LIEBRALS WHO WANT EVERTHING DONE FOR THEM FROM CRADLE TO GRAVE BY THE GOVT... DO YOU KNOW WHY LIBERALS COMPRIZE THE MENTALLY RETARDED, THE MENTALLY ILL, THE SOCIALLY DEFUNCT, THE CRIMINAL AND WANNABE CRIMINAL CROWD... BECUASE LIBERALS ARE BORN FUCKING STUPID, AND THEN GROW UP JEALOUS BECUASE OF WHAT THOSE OF US WHO ARENT, HAVE THRU HARD WORK... YOU MAKE ME WANT TO PUKE MY GUTS OUT ....WHY THE FUCK DONT YOU JUST PACK YOUR BAGS AND MOVE TO A FUCKING EUROSOCIALIST NATION AND GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE USA THAT YOU HATE SO MUCH.... YOU LIBERAL PIECE OF CRAP..

"More bluntly, the Founding Fathers got it wrong."

Utterly untrue.

Aside from England, the government devised by the founders of this country has survived longer than that of any other country of which I'm aware.  If that's "getting it wrong," I'm all agog to learn what's "right."

France and Germany both had decades of political turmoil in the nineteenth century.  Even in England, the mechanics of government are no longer what they once were, even if the form is the same--Elizabeth doesn't rule; Victoria did.  Russia is, and always has been, a political basket case, and Italy is a comedy of errors.

No, the founders didn't get it wrong.  Most of this country's political troubles, and quite a number of its economic troubles, are the result of people ignoring, perverting, or unwisely altering what the founders devised.

"The first mistake was changing the constitution to move from State appointed Senators to elected candidates."

Actually, that was the second mistake--the first, ratified a couple months earlier, was giving the federal government what they still treat like it's an inexhaustible resource: the power to tax individual income.  Both of these changes had the effect of giving the federal government a near-monopoly on political power, something the founders tried very hard to avoid.

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

You obviously have no understanding of the intent of the document that was given to us by our forefathers.  For precisely the reasons you spell out the 17th Amendment needs to be repealed.  The purpose of the senate was to have a body whose foremost duty was to represent the interests of their respective states, not the particular ruling party of the state.

"Above all, try something" is an endorsement of government by panic.  The overriding concern ought to be, "First, do no harm," a prescription that never even seems to occur to American politicians.

mr. meyeerson, with all due respect sir, progressives have been arguing this point since long before i was born not because the founders "screwed up" but because they made it hard, institutionally hard, by design for the political class of this country to impose itself on the citizenry.  the only way that can legitimately happen in our system is to persuade the people in election after election so that you maintain an idealogical majority long enough to implement it.  that no one side can/has done so since the 1930's (and probably won't ever again) speaks not to any founding screw up but their wisdom regarding the relationship between the governing and the governed, and why liberty, the paramount american value, is at stake whenever that gets out of balance.

". . . By the measure of economic growth, a smart authoritarian elite beats a self-negating democratic republic four days out of five. The world looks at us and sees only contentious repose."  Yes another elitist voice eager to suppress individual liberty to allow the "smarter" authoritarians who know how to run things better rule.   This guy would choose Marxist Leninist "democratic" principles replacing our system with their elitist oligarchy. No wonder. He writes for America's version of Pravda, the Washington Post.

very well said OC.  that restoration begins with holding the individual mandate as part of obamacare unconsitutional and begin the process of undoing the inference upon inference that the commerce clause (among other others) has been expanded to enable.

Couldn't have it more wrong!

It surprises me that the same folks, like Senator C Shummer, who reveled in the deliberate pace that the Senate filibuster rules afforded during the last administration revile it so now. Similar to decent back then being the highest form of patriotism, and now being de facto racism.

The author also displays selective memory about the public option and the abomination of health care reform. It fell out of the sausage during the Democrat super majority. The "act" is the cobbled together incomprehensible, unconstitutional mess it is because Democrats couldn't even put something together that they could agree on. For two years the current administration had the control the author wistfully desires, and look what it got us? They did not even pretend to pay lip service to avoiding the bipartisan intransignence that they now accuse the worthy opposition of.

Additionally, the concern about the electoral college vs. popular vote is also a comparatively new phenomenon. When Al Gore was the "next President of the United States" his campaign was totally at peace formulating a response for his winning the electoral count but losing the popular vote. The interpretation of Constitution as a living breathing document is totally dependent on the political fortunes of the Democrats at the time, sort of like the knife fight in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

The tension between state and federal and big state small state is baked in to our system on purpose. There literaly would not be a Union without it. It makes infinitely more sense than having a few highly populated idiologicaly rigid districts be the only voice that matters for the whole, vast country. As it was said "we were given Republic, if we can keep it." It has an amendable Constitution, change it, if you can pass it.

The founders have it perfectly right!

beautifully said jaq.  i think one of the fundamental differences between leftists like mr. meyerson, the president and most in our political class and non-leftists, the majority of the rest of us is that they think that because governmental action begins with good intentions (let's just stipulate that it does, and most of the time) that it therefore an automatic good and government action (activism being lefties favorite value) a no-brainer.  well, i think we've seen over the past decade that intentions don't ultimately matter, outcomes and results do.  that's one of the wonderful things about sports.  

where our friends on the left go awry is when they, as here, confuse the purpose of government, or the end of government to be one of efficiency.  that's not the purpose of government.  efficiency is what companies are for.  it's what markets are for.  it's what all of us as free citizens, are free to so in pursuit of our own happiness.  no, mr. meyerson, the purpose of government is to secure and preserve, and enforce our rights which precede the state and to do so in a just, fair and legitimate way.  and any government that begins to lose the consent of the governed, as measured increasingly in public opinion surveys and the declining confidence not in government per se, but those in and serving in government, is no longer a legitimate one.

i must say i'm impressed to read all of these incredibly articulate and enlightened comments in the american prospect of all places.  nice to see that classical liberalism (not to be confused with contemporary liberalism and the illiberalism that is the political left).  

you are so right lucky, about "above all, try something" being a recipe for disaster.  when it comes to offensive football schemes, the way to better bring product to market, how to reach a struggling student, etc. etc. this is universally true but the fundamental problem our leftist friends forget, or fail to appreciate is that government is different.  the state is not a football team, for profit company, school teacher, inventor, writer, director, entrepreneur, etc. but a monopolistic regime that has coercive power over you and i.  i don't care how powerful any oil company gets, nor any insurance company, a telecommunications firm, a media giant, a chemical company, a retail chain all get, none of them have the power over you and i as does your local police/sheriff department, the d.a's office, the taxman, etc.  and that distinction between private actors and the coercive power of the state SHOULD NEVER be forgotten, or taken for granted in the name of this or that cause.

The founding fathers were not all screwed up, we the people screwed it up by re-electing politicians year after year.  The founding fathers didn't want a permanent political class.  Their idea was to have ordinary citizens run for congress, do the job and go back to thier previous job.  The states are the ones to do the experimentation, not the Fed.  The founding fathers wanted the Fed Gov to be slow to implement laws.  When one party rules Congress, Senate, and Presidency, look what we get, a health care law that no one wanted and was not even read fully before passage.  Divided government is good!  The bills proposed have to pass thru concensus, just like the founding fathers envisioned.  The Tea party is not the problem, its the permanent political class who have a problem with people disagreeing with them.  Dissent is good, and sometimes doing nothing is better than passing things quickly and making it worse (stimulus bill).  What people tend to forget is that government is very inefficient, of each dollar spent between 30 to 60 cents are wasted by inefficiency.  That's why you want the government to do just whats necessary and no more.  That's why the Founding Fathers made us a Deocratic Republic, not a Democracy, otherwise, we'd be like France and would have had multiple governments over the last 200 years.  As the Founding Fathers stated "We the people" not we the political class determine our government.

yes, but that won't prevent the senate from repealing obamacare by the very same procedure that it was originally passed, via the reconciliation process.  i look forward to hearing the likes of mr. meyerson, the nytimes, and rachel maddow decry how a clear end-run around the filibuster is dangerous to our republic.

A quick aside to your comment is that I read a recent article that claimed that 6 states (all blue by the way) have enacted legislation to give their electoral votes to the presidential candidate with the most popular votes, irregardless of whom the majority of voters in the state actually voted for. Of course this stems from the 2000 election, of which the ProgLibs still have not gotten over. However, the interesting thing is that what if someone like Sarah Palin ran and won the popular vote, but came up short on the electoral side. Would these states then automatically give her their electoral votes and put her over the top? Or would the Dems in the legislature enact emergency legislation changing  the rules again in order to stop it. Can you imagine the court battles over that one?

Thoughtful, intellectual commentators - Woodrow Wilson in 1908, followed by like-minded critics throughout the twentieth century, and now most recently by modern thinkers and writers such as Fareed Zakaria in “The Debt Deal’s Failure”, in Time magazine last month - have deplored the paralysis, the dysfunctions, the ineffectiveness of the American way of governing. Washington’s inability to do the basic, necessary work of governing was of great concern to Woodrow Wilson, for whom the “separation of powers was the central defect of American politics” according to Jeffrey K Tulis in a 1987 book. Another respected writer, Theodore C  Sorenson, in his 1984 book, wrote: “Almost no one in Washington ... doubts the urgent need to reduce sharply the $200 billion annual budget deficit. But how? “ The failure to answer that question has produced consequences: here’s an email I recently received.
Why the US was downgraded...
• U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
• Fed budget: $3,820,000,000,000
• New debt: $ 1,650,000,000,000
• National debt: $14,271,000,000,000
• Recent budget cut: $ 38,500,000,000
Now let's remove 8 zeros and pretend it’s our “own household” budget:
• Annual family income: $21,700.
• Money the family spent: $38,200.
• New debt on the credit card: $16,500.
• Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
• Total budget cuts: $385.
This pretty much makes it clear, don’t you think?
According to a very recent Gallup poll, “a record-high 81% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed, adding to negativity that has been building over the past 10 years.”
The system is broken. There is at present no will to change the system. Predictably, America will become an increasingly unattractive country in which to live as a result.

The founding fathers designed a system to prevent one party from pushing there agenda through over the objection of the people. That is why wanted SENATORS elected by STATE LEGISLATURES. That is why the progressives/liberals targeted changing that as one of there first objectives. They did not figure on the TEA PARTY. A WARNING TO THE TO THE FUTURE THEY WILL NOT GIVE UP. This will be a constant struggle for FREEDOM !!

"If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution. When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. " - James Madison, Federalist No. 10 (emphasis added).

The abuses of a "parliamentary government" were what caused the Revolution in the first place. If you knew anything at all, you'd know that "efficient" governments are historically the most dangerous; see Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Soviet Union as examples. It is pretty easy to "do something" when you don't care at all about rights of those who dissent, but it is not how I wish to be governed, thank you.

I think Mitch was sarcastically making the point that it works both ways.



Of course I'm not sure a self-professed socialist like Meyerson
would understand that point, even thou he should.   Particularly when so
called "conservatives" like Stalin took over socialist country's and
used that boundless power to "try" what they wanted "to solve" the
country's "pressing problems".



Its not so clear cut when you come to think of the sword as being 2 edge and Mitch is right to point that out.



Indeed the history of human goverment bares witness to the fact that the
other edge of that sword has always been the most commonly used.  I
have no problem with Meyerson living in a land where that sword of boundless goverment is unleashed.  I just don't want to live in that hell with him.

I thus eagerly invite him to eyther move to a land that lives by them limits(or lack there of) or attempt it with his own state.  if he sticks with his own state then he can live in comfort of the fact that when it becomes oppressive he will at last resort be able to vote with his feet.

I ask Harold Meyerson this simple question:  Would you like conservatives to wield such untrammeled power?  Implementing policies like government-funded weapons for all citizens to protect themselves, outlawing all abortions, outlawing not just gay marriage but homosexuality itself...  etc

That is the problem inherent in a powerful central government, and the founders were wise to try to avoid that.

The commenters here have stated it well.  The founders never envisioned the federal government would wield such power.  They didn't set it up to do that, and that's why statists see our system as dysfunctional.  They are trying to use it for a purpose for which it was never intended.  They are trying to use a butter knife as a hammer and it ain't workin.'

Tocqueville admired our ability to take care of ourselves and order our own lives at the community level without an overweening central government.   We are a diverse nation, and one-size-fits-all government does not work, and should not work.

The Feral Government needs to restrict itself to the enumerated powers and leave the rest to We The People.

The parliamentary system work for smaller countries, but it would not work for the the US. The difference between the states culture and geography are too large , coalitions would not be able to form.

Nope.  The founders got it right.  Our problem, if any, is that we are too democratic - and it will remain so until we repeal the 17th Amendment.

The thing that has allowed the US to continue to exist is the fact that it is designed not to work too well. Governments that work "too well" NEED to be destroyed sooner and more often than those that are less effective in imposing their will on their victims, I mean their subjects, I mean their citizens. I'm amazed that someone as smart as Harry Meyerson doesn't know that...NOT!!!! Harry doesn't know it because he doesn't want to know. He is a liberal who believes regular people ain't got no rights that liberals are bound to respect, to paraphrase Chief Justice Taney.

The fact is, the founders feared and loathed overreaching government, as we now have.  That is the problem, not government inaction.  The federal government should be reduced to a proper size within its true constitutional limits.  Then, it will have done something positive!

I don't know if it is because they thought the coming of Obama meant the complete victory of statism in America or if they have just escaped the house without their meds, but liberals are being strangely forthright concerning their disdain for our founding documents and our system of government...don't get me wrong, the honesty is refreshing. I much prefer this bold, arrogant approach over their usual and quite frankly disingenuous "shout out" to the Founders as they support completely contradictory policies.

The fundamental flaw in thinking that is the problem.  The people are the economy.  The govt CAN'T make them do anything.  The best things the govt can do to help the economy is nothing. Let it be free and it will grow.

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