The Christmas season must be difficult for Times columnists. Apparently holiday fatigue and excess eggnog lead to bad outcomes. Any column bt Maureen Dowd could be offered as evidence but this latest laugher from David Brooks reveals a man in need of a few weeks away:
Strengthen the Presidency
Right, because libs were so content under Bush and righties are just loving Obama. Not to mention the civil liberties/NSA/drone wars thing that still vexes some on the left. But let's press on:
We’re in a period of reform stagnation. It’s possible that years will go by without the passage of a major piece of legislation. Meanwhile, Washington nearly strangles on a gnat, like this week’s teeny budget compromise.
In the current issue of The American Interest, Francis Fukuyama analyzes this institutional decay. His point is that the original system of checks and balances has morphed into a “vetocracy,” an unworkable machine where many interests can veto reform.
"Reform stagnation" - he says that like its a bad thing.
We learn - tear out the front page! - that the center of power has been captured by the regulatees:
Fukuyama describes what you might call the demotion of Pennsylvania Avenue. Legislative activity could once be understood by what happens at either end of that street. But now power is dispersed among the mass of rentier groups. Members of Congress lead lives they don’t want to lead because they are beholden to the groups. The president is hemmed in by this new industry, interest group capitalism. The unofficial pressure sector dominates the official governing sector. Throw in political polarization and you’ve got a recipe for a government that is more stultified, stagnant and overbearing.
What's next, some old guy warning of a military-industrial complex?
Fortunately, our Mr. Brooks has a solution:
But there is a way out: Make the executive branch more powerful.
He knows you are slack-jawed from thoughts of ObamaCare, but stay with him:
This is a good moment to advocate greater executive branch power because we’ve just seen a monumental example of executive branch incompetence: the botched Obamacare rollout. It’s important to advocate greater executive branch power in a chastened mood. It’s not that the executive branch is trustworthy; it’s just that we’re better off when the presidency is strong than we are when the rentier groups are strong, or when Congress, which is now completely captured by the rentier groups, is strong.
He still knows that some us are slack-jawed. What, we are wondering, about the Tea Party? We can read umpty-bump articles about how the tea Partiers have hijacked the Washington agenda, but just which rentier group has them in their pocket? And speaking of the Washington establishment and a massive lobbying effort, what about about immigration reform?
Mr. Brooks is ready with a riposte, at least on immigration:
Here are the advantages. First, it is possible to mobilize the executive branch to come to policy conclusion on something like immigration reform. It’s nearly impossible for Congress to lead us to a conclusion about anything.
Huh? That hardly explains why all the king's lobbyists and all the king's men can't get immigration reform through Congress.
We are offered a bit of wishful thinking:
Second, executive branch officials are more sheltered from the interest groups than Congressional officials. Third, executive branch officials usually have more specialized knowledge than staffers on Capitol Hill and longer historical memories. Fourth, Congressional deliberations, to the extent they exist at all, are rooted in rigid political frameworks. Some agencies, especially places like the Office of Management and Budget, are reasonably removed from excessive partisanship. Fifth, executive branch officials, if they were liberated from rigid Congressional strictures, would have more discretion to respond to their screw-ups, like the Obamacare implementation.
To be fair, by "executuve branch" I am sure he does not mean "White House"; the column opened with a visit to the Congressional Budget Office. However, the wishful thinking is in believing that the OMB should be more imortant because it is (somewhat) non-partisan. Here in reality, that reverses cause and effect - if it were important, the OMB would have been re-staffed. Sort of like the non-partisam Justice Department under Holder.
A full departure from reality occurs here:
Finally, the nation can take it out on a president’s party when a president’s laws don’t work. That doesn’t happen in Congressional elections, where most have safe seats.
Uh huh. Is Mr. Brooks even aware of the IRS/Tea Party scandal? Taking it out on an incumbent executive is not as easy as it ought to be. And Obamacare has never polled above 50%, yet we can't seem to escape it or its author.
He builds to his comic climax:
So how do you energize the executive? It’s a good idea to be tolerant of executive branch power grabs and to give agencies flexibility. We voters also need to change our voting criteria. It’s not enough to vote for somebody who agrees with your policy preferences. Presidential candidates need to answer two questions. How are you going to build a governing 60 percent majority that will enable you to drive the Washington policy process? What is your experience implementing policies through big organizations?
Thinking all the way back to 2000, I would say that Governor Bush, a "Uniter, not a Divider", answered both of those questions to the satisfaction of a near-majority. And pushed through much of his domestic and international agenda, garnering a nod from Mencken. That said, I don't remember thumbsuckers about the powerless presidency back when Bush's Social Security reform foundered in 2005, although I suppose his failed run at immigration reform may have generated some ruminations about lame ducks and unpopular wars.
Of course, in 2008 Obama seemed to have the answers to just those questions - the greatest thinker and speaker in the history of forever had 60 Senators on his side, an overwhelming House majority, and a nation behind him. Was the resulting Washington drift really a problem of partisanship and lobbying, or was it a center-right nation rejecting a lefty President who dropped his electoral disguise?
Or, as we have learned with HealthCare.fail, maybe the Lightworker is just a light worker.
MORE: AllahPundit is excellent. A snippet:
It’s a rare rentier group that’s so powerful and malevolent that holding it in check is worth gifting new powers to an already increasingly powerful presidency. (Watch Jonathan Turley on that if you haven’t already.) But it’s also typical of the “banal authoritarianism of do-something punditry,” of which Brooks is a leading practitioner, that the idea of gridlock horrifies him more than extending the imbalance of power among the three branches. If only we acquiesced in Obama’s power grabs more than we already do — and we already do, almost entirely! — he might enact immigration reform himself. Which is important because if we’re stuck waiting for John Boehner and the House to do it, we might be waiting … what? Another four, maybe five months? Seems to me if you’re worried about special interests capturing government, you’re better off empowering Congress so that those interests hold each other in check to some extent than you are empowering a single government official who’ll end up serving the particular interests that have captured him.