Has America become “ungovernable”?
posted at 10:55 am on December 12, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
So says Matthew Yglesias, who’s dismayed that the progressive agenda has ground to a halt. Instead of taking the correct lesson from this — that Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid overreached and assumed a mandate that didn’t exist — Yglesias blames America instead. He focuses his ire on Mitch McConnell, who leads only 40 Republicans in the Senate, but applies the lesson to the system:
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. …
We’re suffering from an incoherent institutional set-up in the senate. 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.
Funny, but I don’t recall Yglesias demanding those changes while Democrats were in the minority in the Senate. Tom Daschle was no less obstructionist, and Democrats managed to kneecap George Bush on judicial appointments without writing cris des coeurs over ungovernable America. In fact, Democrats openly bragged about using the Senate’s ancient methods of corralling the majority, even on the novel issue of judicial appointments where such procedures had rarely been used. And yet George Bush and the Republicans still managed to govern, and that was just a couple of years ago.
So what changed? Glenn Reynolds, who predicted the “ungovernable” argument three months ago, points to a comment onYglesias’ site:
“There have been no major institutional changes in the United States government in recent history that have caused it to ‘become ungovernable.’ There just isn’t enough political support to enact various news laws and policies that you favor. Tough. If you hadn’t become seduced by the delusion that Obama is a ‘progressive’ and that last year’s election represented some kind of historic realignment in favor of ‘progressive’ policies you might have seen this coming.”
Well, there has been one change in government, as Moe Lane notes: Democrats are in charge for the first time in 15 years.
What I find so laughable about this complaint is that Democrats have something Republicans never had — 60 votes in the Senate (and for that matter, a 75-seat majority in the House). Mitch McConnell, the primary target of Yglesias’ ire and his Exhibit A of ungovernability, simply can’t stop anything the Democrats want to pass, if they unite as a caucus. The problem for Yglesias, Obama, and Harry Reid is that their agenda is so far Left that even some Democrats object to it.
Obama and Reid thought that red-state Senators would act like San Francisco liberals once Obama took office, but forgot to account for the fact that they represent real constituents who don’t support the progressive agenda. At all. And some of those Democrats would like to win their next election and have to answer to center-right electorates that don’t like government interventions, high taxes, and economy-killing attacks on the energy industry.
And so with 60 Democratic votes in the Senate, the 111th Congress has ground to a halt. That’s not McConnell’s fault. It’s the incompetence of the Democratic leadership that fundamentally misunderstood the mandate from the last two elections, that miscalculated the positions of its own members in the Senate, and thought they could cram down a hard-Left agenda without even bothering to consult and court the minority. Republican leadership before 2006 certainly fumbled the ball, but they had no trouble governing. Why? Because they didn’t arrogantly assume that they could do it by themselves, and they didn’t offer radical expansions of government that went out of favor with the electorate long before Bill Clinton declared that “the era of Big Government is over.”
I wrote about incompetence as a theme of this presidency three months ago. It’s become a theme of Congressional leadership as well. Voters will get the opportunity to grade the Pelosi-Reid-Obama agenda as well as their competence in about 11 months, and Democrats can expect a rather harsh report card.
Update: Ta-Nehisi Coates notes that Yglesias did favor dumping the filibuster in 2005, but that’s at least somewhat off point. Did Matt consider America “ungovernable” when Democrats used it to block Republican efforts, and Bush’s judicial appointments? My criticism wasn’t about Yglesias’ position on the filibuster specifically, but his declaration of America as “ungovernable,” which should be obvious above.