From Conor Friedersdorf, ostensibly about Harry Reid, sentence number one:
As Gene Healy’s cult of the presidency continues apace, it is equally remarkable that the legislative branch so often seems unable or unwilling to carry out basic functions proscribed by the Constitution.
The three American branches of government were designed, broadly speaking, such that the legislature would write laws, the executive would, well, execute them (but could veto, and potentially be overridden), and the judicial branch would determine their constitutionality. This is no longer the case. The United States, at least at the federal level, no longer has checks and balances. Your high school civics class is now wrong.
Over the past few decades (or longer), the executive has basically taken the front seat. The legislature is now a body that merely approves laws crafted (either directly, or their primary intent) by the executive. The Supreme Court, despite major constitutional departures (suspension of habeas corpus, congressional declaration of war, and so many others) has proven unwilling to fulfill their role. The United States now more closely resembles the Principate of the later Roman period, where instead of being equals, the wishes of the citizenry, judiciary and legislature were political luxuries the leader courted, but were fundamentally subservient to him when it came to policy.
In practice, the Principate was a period of enlightened absolutism, with occasional forays into quasi-constitutional monarchy; Emperors tended not to flaunt their power and usually respected the rights of citizens (although they never let this fact bind them).
Sound familiar? At least we don’t have dynastic monarchs, where many of our leaders all hail from the same rich and powerful families? Oh, right, never mind.
So, since the Supreme Court seems fundamentally uninterested in major constitutional breaches, the only way to suppress executive power has been when the legislature and the citizens are nominally opposed to it — as during the Clinton administration, or last two years of Bush II. Good work, citizenry! Unfortunately, this opposition is ultimately political (i.e. Republican vs. Democrat), not constitutional. As soon as the citizens and congress were suitably aligned with Republican or Democratic presidents, this check vanished. The fact that “aligned” is shorthand for relatively miniscule shifts in actual public opinion, and that the populace and both parties are actually in practice rather in agreement on most of the constitutional violations, is also worrisome.
So, if old-fashioned, checks-and-balances constitutional opposition to executive power is impotent, we’ll have to rely on that political opposition stuff! Too bad one of our pathetic political parties is completely prostrate. Jon Henke, with the other sentence: (okay fine it’s actually six sentences, you got me)
The implication of Hayek’s position is that conservatism can never achieve the vision of genuine individual freedom – it can only oppose the Left. If that is the case, then who can achieve limited government? The Compassionate Conservative approach has been tried, miserably (though some, like Douthat and others advocate variations on it). The religious right seems inclined towards a Christian Democrats approach (Huckabee, et al). There is the “energetic” and “ambitious” “national greatness” approach advocated by those like David Brooks, Bill Kristol & John McCain. Libertarians and many independents/moderates are inclined toward a, you know, libertarian approach.
So, we have five potential Republican strategies (I’ll add one at the end):
Compassionate: didn’t work, as Henke notes.
Religious: isn’t going to work. If it could, then the religious right wouldn’t be on a massive retreat on nearly every topic it cares about.
National Greatness: isn’t going to work. It will be as popular as it’s centerpiece: the war in Iraq. Good luck with that.
Libertarianism: obviously my favorite tactic for anyone to pursue, but there are many people on the left who would argue that the recent financial crisis has invalidated this as well — though I would disagree, the fact remains that lots of people think so.
Social: the culture war types, who don’t like rap music, violent videogames, pornography, etc… This faction has been pretty much getting their asses handed to them for 40 years now. Not going to work.
The two most tried-and-true of these, Social and Religious, are also the ones that have been most crushingly defeated, and will continue to be so for a long time primarily for the reason Henke also lays out here:
As Kristen Soltis has pointed out here recently, “young voters began abandoning the Republican Party long before Barack Obama was even a serious contender for the presidency. Those pinning the Republican Party’s poor fortunes among young voters on the Obama candidacy miss the source of the problem and certainly underestimate its severity.”
Lesson: Republicans had better become more appealing to young people, because patterns established in youth persist for life.
Pardon my skepticism, but old religious fogeys who want to go back to a time without all these newfangled socially corrosive things aren’t really going to get many votes in the young people category. Because here’s the problem: every day a bunch of people who might be swayed by these arguments die. And a bunch of people who are vastly more likely to ignore them are born. Unless there’s a really amazing pro-old-religious-fogey propaganda campaign going on here that will swamp these effects, those two positions are total dead ends. While I like to rag on these two tactics, mainly because I find them distasteful, I’m not particularly fond of National Greatness or Compassionate either — but that’s okay, since they don’t seem to be doing too well.
So what do we have here? A dysfunctional division of power. The only remaining check, that of an opposition party, is pretty dead or dying, and even people like me, who really like divided government, aren’t even that sad to see it go. Even if the Republican party manages to somehow right itself, (as the Democratic party did after its doom was widely forecast only a few years ago) all this means is that things might be okay when the electoral dice roll for divided government (and assuming the two parties actually disagree on the pertinent issues), and not-so-happy when they do not.
Given that what parties seem to do when they have unrestricted power is “expensive things that will get people to like us even more” in an effort to prolong their reign, we can much more briefly sum up the Future of American Politics with only one sentence and zero additional commentary:
How are we going to pay for all of this?