Peter Orszag, the former Director of the Office of Budget and Management in the Obama administration, thinks we have entirely too much democracy. According to him, we need lots of commissions and panels that will just do things for us, without all that messy voting and debating and gridlock.
In an 1814 letter to John Taylor, John Adams wrote that “there never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” That may read today like an overstatement, but it is certainly true that our democracy finds itself facing a deep challenge: During my recent stint in the Obama administration as director of the Office of Management and Budget, it was clear to me that the country’s political polarization was growing worse—harming Washington’s ability to do the basic, necessary work of governing. If you need confirmation of this, look no further than the recent debt-limit debacle, which clearly showed that we are becoming two nations governed by a single Congress—and that paralyzing gridlock is the result.
So what to do? To solve the serious problems facing our country, we need to minimize the harm from legislative inertia by relying more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions. In other words, radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic.
Well, yes. That does seem radical. Then again progressivism, which exists to take control of your life from you and give them to super geniuses like Peter Orszag, is radical. In truth, though, Orszag’s proposal isn’t novel. Leftists have proposed schemes like this before, and always for the same reason: government is too important to leave to the masses, who insist on standing in the way of their great ideas and cause “gridlock”. Toss in the old “polarization” canard, and this essay could have just as easily been written in 1978 or 1998.
Here’s the thing, though. Government is not any more polarized now than it’s been at any point in the past. In fact, save for that little contretemps called the Civil War that pretty much defined “polarization”, government now is just as contentious as it has ever been. Actually, that’s probably not a fact. You could make a very good argument that government today is less polarized than it’s been in the past. We no longer have lawmakers caning each other in the Capitol building or calling each other out for a duel on the lawn. Sure, once in a blue moon a Vice President will drop the f-bomb during a photo op, but that’s really not Orszag’s problem.
No, his real problem is that Congress doesn’t rubber-stamp the legislation he likes. See, I happen to know that Peter Orszag didn’t write a hang-wringing editorial about polarization when a Democratic Congress crushed George W. Bush’s Social Security reform plans nor when the risible Alan Grayson stood in the well of the House and told America that Republicans wanted them to die quickly.
And what does Orszag want Congress to pass? Well, let’s look at the most recent squabble over a continuing resolution we were told by Democrats was absolutely necessary else disaster victims would suffer horribly. The vote on the resolution never happened because, as it turned out, FEMA didn’t need any more money. It found that the $114 million it had in its Disaster Relief Fund would suffice and it didn’t really need the $3.6 billion the Senate was ready to give it over the next two years.
Yes, you read that correctly. Congress was fully prepared to give FEMA about ten times the amount of money it really needed. And that’s not the worst of it. Harry Reid (D-Poutyville) wanted to dish out almost $7 billion in aid before Republicans put the brakes on the bill.
And where was the point of contention? Republicans insisted that the resolution also contain $1.6 billion in cuts to two federal loan programs to partially offset the extra spending the Democrats wanted to do including the program that dumped $545 million into SolyndraScam. That seems like such a small thing to you or me, but to Democrats it’s a big deal, because they’re using those programs to pay millions of dollars to campaign contributors and family members in “green jobs” industries.
If we lived in Orszag’s ideal America, where commissions and automatic triggers ruled over us, FEMA would have a few more billion dollars in its coffers, to spend on God along knows what and the Democrats’ corrupt “green jobs” slush fund wouldn’t be an issue at all. I’m sure that’s what he wants, but it; not what the Founders wanted and I’m dead-certain it’s not what any American with a whit of self-reliance wants.
John Adams’ was right to warn about democratic suicide, but Orszag has the weapon of choice entirely wrong. No free country ever died from too much democracy; they all died with the noose of corrupt bloated government around their throats.