Know Your Madisonian 2012

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On Opening Night, there was a point when Brian Sather , our assistant GM, was scooping ice cream, I was making cotton candy and Mallards president Vern Stenman was helping cook burgers. I think one thing that surprised a lot of people here was how well certain things, like calamari, would go at the ballpark. Tristan Straub is the executive chef for the Madison Mallards baseball team.

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The system will correct itself eventually. In that I agree with Anon. I just don't agree that this correction necessarily will come without great damage. I hope it will. I have expressed the hope on this blog before that if we can keep the lid on for twenty years or so demographic and economic change may provide the kind of fundamental shifts that will make responsible behavior more in line with elite interest. But the world is a cruel and dangerous place.

Twenty years may be something we don't have. Aren't threats 2 and 3 related? It seems to me that people's opinions on issues are sometimes informed by their status as supporters of a given party. This could link unrelated issues together, and might be more powerful as people feel more intensely partisan. The problem is that our parties, particularly the GOP, have come to operate like parliamentary parties, but we don't have a parliamentary system.

When parties are ideologically cohesive, giving the defeated minority a veto on policy -- or dividing powers so that both parties can claim recent, still-tenable electoral mandates -- is a formula for very confused policymaking at best. It creates the potential for demogaguery and sabotage that we currently see, in which the non-presidential party thwarts the president's policies and then denounces him as a failure, trading on the public's uncertainty about who's responsible for what.

Demagoguery is exactly what Madison was anxious to avoid, so it's ironic that a Madisonian system actually helps create the conditions for it. We're obviously not going to trade in our system for a whole new one, so I don't know that there's any one solution to this. When republics fail, what generally follows? Isn't it some form of oligarchy? Doesn't the flow of many 10's of millions of dollars into Wisconsin from uber-wealthy out-of-state special interests for next week's recall vote indicate that that is where we are heading?

Shouldn't this be threat number 4 to Madison? Though I would rank it 1. Money and power are fungible. A small, powerful economic elite is in full throttle to take over the Government, and Wisconsin is the battleground for this phase of the struggle. We're headed for either fascism or some 21st century version of feudalism - different manifestations of oligarchy. If Wisconsin falls, and Repubs win in Nov - which is what voter suppression as all about - then our democracy is finished.

Not that I'm optimistic in the short run, I just doubt anything like this stands up to genuine scrutiny in 40 years. Who's going to know who Scott Walker is in ? Your very helpful analysis focuses on institutions and incentives created by them, which seems wholly appropriate given the perspective's grounding in contemporary political science. But doesn't one also have to eventually integrate an assessment or narrative about virtue and corruption, one that isn't purely a product of incentives and rational calculation? Now, this isn't so conducive to objectivity and clear policy recommendations, and it's very hard to do well, but it seems like values-based cultural critique has to be part of a more comprehensive interpretive explanation.

But, as a number of the comments above suggest Anastasios' and Jeff's in particular, and my own reaction to Anon's hope , if the problem is the parties and one of them in particular , and the parties don't seem to have any interest in fixing themselves a la my thought in response to Anon: what did the GOP do after defeats in and ?

Double down what's the solution? And this is where I start to go down Jeff's road: maybe the solution is to make our system more parliamentarian. If our parties are going to behave like parliamentary parties, let's give them a parliament. If I had to guess what Hans Noel meant by fixing our institutions so they could handle our parties is probably to bow to the inevitable and make our system more parliamentary in nature.

The main problem with that is that this requires amending the Constitution, which is notoriously difficult and treated as sacred writ by too many Americans to even consider it. The best you could do under the current system is to change Senate rules and get rid of the filibuster, everything is an up or down vote. It won't solve all our problems but if you get rid of the filibuster than you take away the advantage of being a parliamentary party in a Madisonian system.

Unfortunately, eliminating the filibuster wouldn't be enough; the Madisonian design would still allow both parties to claim popular mandates and to control parts of the government at the same time.

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That's the basic flaw. What Madison didn't realize is that factions were bound to develop into parties, and once they did, the cure for factionalism wasn't endless checking and balancing, but almost the reverse: allowing one group a more or less clear shot at governing for a time, followed by a free election in which the people could judge the results and decide whether to keep that group in power or replace it with the other one.

That's what we're not going to get short of wholesale reform. That said, though, eliminating the filibuster would be a step in the right direction. Jeff, this is true but eliminating the filibuster would get rid of the ability of the minority party to do a lot of mischief. In the Senate, they would at least have to vote. The problem with lets make America parliamentary is that its either going to involve a lot of Constitutional amendments or a new constitution from a constitutional convention. Both are unlikely to occur because lots of Americans believe our current Madisonian system to be sacrosanct.

A constitutional convention is going to include a lot of people who are going to want to make a super Madisonian system. Besides eliminating the filibuster, are there any reforms to move America into a parliamentary system that do not involve changing the constitution? Let's make the line of thinking a little more specific even yet I'm not advocating any course of action, I'm just trying to clarify some points and their implications. The impasse we reach is that neither seems to be a viable option.

The parties can't really be "changed," they have to change themselves and they don't show any signs of being interested in that.

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Changing the system is more promising in that sense, but it is very difficult. The usual changes mentioned filibuster reform, etc may not go far enough if parties are really determined to behave in a parliamentary fashion, then a bicameral legislature with distorted representation still allows enormous scope for mischief , and a full-fledged constitutional change would run into all the problems outlined above. At this point we appear to have three options: 1 Let things get worse until the constitutional order definitively fails, or 2 Accept that regional differences make the US ungovernable, and accept the necessity of the breakup of the country into smaller, more efficient and more governable successor states, or 3 A combination of the the two I'm not saying the secession or breakup or devolution is the answer, I'm just pointing out that the internal logic of this discussion can lead that way pretty quickly.

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Doesn't secession have the same problems as turning the United States into a parliamentary system? While not technically against the Constitution, the Civil War established that it is impossible for states to leave the Union. Solution one is simply unpaltable and unacceptable from a liberal point of view. Heightening the contradictions does not work as a strategy and leads to way too much suffering. Lee, As I said, I'm not advocating secession, I'm just pointing out that these kinds of discussions logically head in that direction.

As to your point about the Civil War, although legal and constitutional scholars make claims about the precedents it established, I think most historians that is my current profession, by the way would say that it simply established that the southern states of that time motivated by the causes of that time could not successfully secede from the Union of the that time.

It says nothing about future possiblities historians are extremely allergic to drawing any kind of rules or models from historical instances, it is one reason that the they don't get along very well with sociologists and political scientists. Let us try a thought experiment -- and that is all this is, not an attempt at any kind of real analysis. Let us say that the constitutional order continues to fail, with escalating crises and interminable disfunction. Let us say that disgust with the present order begins to build across the country, but in different ways in different regions.

The South longs for a return to a culturally homogenous polity with strong local communities. You hear more and more in the Northeast about the European and Canadian models. The Mountain West sees its libertarian political tendencies grow ever stronger. And California begins to emphasize it unique cultural and social identity. The system could survive if any one of those groups decided to pull out.

That, arguably, would be a situation similar to But what if two decided to go at once?

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What if a truly radical set of Southern politicians began to make Rick Perry type talk in earnest just as California made a move for greater autonomy? What if organized groups in New York joined in, and the libertarian movements in the west decided their time had come? Would the remaining forces for unity be strong enough to stop them? More to the point, would they even want to? Remember, it isn't all that unusual even now to find people saying that the Civil War was a mistake, and that it would have been better just to let the Confederacy go and good riddance. Loose talk, to be sure, and not indicative of any real danger -- yet.

Keeping the Union together in was a LOT harder than most people realize, and the issues were arguably simpler than the scenario we are talking about here. For that matter putting it together in the first place was a lot harder than most people realize, and possible only because the Founders ruthlessly and deliberately excluded their opponents, first the Tories then the Anti-Constitutionalists, from first the Continental Congresses and then the Constitutional Convention. These forces were strong and represented very large segments of the population, and had they been included in the conversations might well have had their way, or prevented the Founders from having theirs.

But the Founders were, as most people except the Tea Party forget, ruthless revolutionaries, and and not afraid to act like it at crucial moments. People sometimes say we need men like the Founders again or like Lincoln.

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  • If there is one thing I suspect most historians would agree about, it's that we better profoundly hope that we don't need people like that, because it means that things have gotten very bad -- and it also means that the outcome might be much different than the people who long for such leaders would expect.

    Now, having done a thought experiment, and a rather simplistic one at that, let me lay out a scenario that I hope might get us out of this mess eventually. This won't be sunlight and unicorns, by the way. The economic changes will be extremely painful and hurt an awful lot of people. The demographic changes will lead to enormous tension and distrust and hateful behavior. But in the end we will have a polity with greatly increased diversity, but, perhaps paradoxically, a more shared understanding of the economic and social challenges facing America.

    That is minorities will be empowered and better able to advocate for change, while majorities will be less able to ignore problems and claim that the issues of the time don't affect them personally. At that point we will all be in the same world.

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    So I call Dennis the next morning to ask. He didn't know her number, but remembered where she lived, Monroe Street. I went out and bought a newspaper to get the movie ads, tucked them away, and set out for her house a few blocks away when the time was decent. She looked a little surprised at the door but invited me in, Judy was there. After some small talk, I asked if she wanted to see a movie. We don't know what's playing, says she. At which point I whip out the ads. How about The Reivers at the Orpheum? That went well and so it has ever since. I still have that ad.

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