Whenever progressives, as liberals now like to be called, can’t get their policies adopted, they start crying that the “government doesn’t work.”
Former Obama OMB director Peter Orszag, for example, recently wrote a piece in the New Republic (no longer available to non-subscribers) in which he said “radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic.”
North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue suggested, in what she later claimed was a joke, that elections be delayed to allow the current Congress to deal with our economic problems. It would be interesting to ask Ms. Perdue if she would (jokingly) advocate the same if she were sure Democrats would do well in 2012.
But, of course, our system is designed to prevent radical changes from happening too fast (and when radical changes do happen too fast, for example Obamacare, the public is skeptical). This is a roundabout way of getting to some remarks in praise of gridlock that Pete Wehner, one of my favorite bloggers over at Commentary, posted from Justice Scalia.
Scalia made several insightful points, including this one: the key to the distinctiveness of America is not the Bill of Rights, which “every banana republic in the world” has, but our structure of government – which involves the separation of powers, something that is quite rare in the world.
Then Scalia went on to say:
The Europeans look at this system and they say ‘Well, it passes one house, it doesn’t pass the other house, sometimes the other house is in the control of a different party. It passes both, and then this president, who has a veto power, vetoes it” — and they look at this and they say, ‘Ach, it is gridlock,’” according to Scalia. “And I hear Americans saying this nowadays, and there’s a lot of it going around. They talk about a dysfunctional government because there’s disagreement — and the Framers would have said, ‘Yes! That’s exactly the way we set it up. We wanted this to be power contradicting power because the main ill that beset us, as Hamilton said in The Federalist, when he talked about a separate Senate, he said, ‘Yes, it seems inconvenient, but inasmuch as the main ill that besets us is an excess of legislation, it won’t be so bad.’ This is 1787; he didn’t know what an excess of legislation was….
Unless Americans can appreciate that and learn to love the separation of powers, which means learning to love the gridlock which the Framers believed would be the main protection of minorities, the main protection. If a bill is about to pass that really comes down hard on some minority [and] they think it’s terribly unfair, it doesn’t take much to throw a monkey wrench into this complex system. So Americans should appreciate that, and they should learn to love the gridlock. It’s there for a reason, so the legislation that does get out is good legislation.
Peter Wehner’s dissection of the progressive distaste for checks and balances is well worth reading in its entirety.