Thursday, July 2, 2009

Being David Brooks II

In considering health care reform, David Brooks of the New York Times makes some very relevant points in his article, "Lombardi Politics." He smartly outlines the dilemma of the executive and legislative branches and two kinds of pragmatism, "legislative pragmatism — writing bills that can pass" and " policy pragmatism — creating programs that work."

What was interesting immediately was the definition that both are pragmatic. When one usually thinks of programs they are either pragmatic or ideological within both the legislative and executive branches. (They could also have elements of both.) But here when considering both a Democratic president and Congress, Brooks defines both as pragmatic. Are Democrats seen as pragmatic and Republicans more ideological?

Brooks makes an excellent point which has more to do with politics than programs in that the stimulus bill, cap and trade bill, and now the health care bill all have to be negotiated so that a bill that could actually work becomes so convoluted by politics that by the time it passes it has no effect or even increases the problems that the bill itself sought to alleviate. He cites the European Union's cap and trade bill as increasing emissions after it was passed as opposed to decreasing them. In relation to health care Brooks writes,

On health care too, the complicated job of getting a bill that can pass is taking priority over the complicated task of creating a program that can work. Dozens of different ideas are being added, watered down or merged together in order to cobble together a majority. But will the logrolling produce a sustainable health system that controls costs and actually hangs together?

The great paradox of the age is that Barack Obama, the most riveting of recent presidents, is leading us into an era of Congressional dominance. And Congressional governance is a haven for special interest pleading and venal logrolling.

When the executive branch is dominant you often get coherent proposals that may not pass. When Congress is dominant, as now, you get politically viable mishmashes that don’t necessarily make sense.
Brooks does not offer a solution, but he does give us much to think about. In considering a solution I wonder if getting big business out of campaign financing would be a great start. Bills then would not be laden with such pork and the probability of passing one that will actually make a difference will be far greater, not to mention that the power element associated with members of Congress will be lessened and servant leadership more possible.


dave wheeler said...


I have said many times that the first step to "real change" would be to reform the way we elect our federal officials. Get the money out completely by providing ALL candidates equal access to the airwaves to get their message out, the aircraft for travel, and provide this funding a set period of time say January to November of an election year. Extend congressional terms to four years so every year isn't an election year and the focus isn't on re-election, it's on legislation. Removing "politics" from programs isn't so much about which branch has control as it is which party has control.

As always Auntie Judith, a terrific and interesting post! When you're elected, I'll be there to help you 1000 percent!

Judith Ellis said...

Hear hear, Dave! Excellent comment. Along with your proposal, I would also like to see term limits. Fresh faces and ideas are imperative. Thanks for your comment. Yes!

If such were to ever happen, which seems highly unlikely indeed, Oh, how I would love your help, my friend! Thanks for the vote of confidence.

dave wheeler said...


You will always have my confidence, my help and my vote...regardless!

I agree with you also on term limits. Arkansas has them and it drives the the pols crazy. "We barely have time to find out where the bathrooms are" I've heard a couple of them say. Buddy, you can't find the can in six years, you don't have any business writing/passing legislation.The people voted for term limits and they are proposing legislation next year to overturn them...politics as usual!

Judith Ellis said...

Ah, what nice words, Dave. To you I return the same. Thank you.

I don't know if what you wrote was supposed to be funny or not, but I laughed aloud. (Sometimes you have to laugh instead of crying.) If they'd actually get in there with an agenda for the people maybe they could get something done in less time instead of lollygagging or grandstanding.

It is my belief that the Founding Fathers hoped that those who wrote and passed legislation would then go home and live under the same. I guess the likes of Senator Byrd (D) and the deceased Strom Thurmond (R) never went home. Byrd was elected in 1959 and he's still "serving." Thurmond "served" from 1956 to 2003.

Now, does this make any sense?

John O'Leary said...

Much to chew on here, Judith. "Congressional governance is a haven for special interest pleading and venal logrolling." True, but too much Presidential power - especialy under the wrong leader - has its own liabilities, as we've seen this decade. Tricky to find the balance, eh?

Judith Ellis said...

Yes, John, it is a difficult balance indeed. One of the points I took from the article is that maybe President Obama is leaning too much to the whims of the Congress. That goes back to balance again--tricky indeed. Decisions are often politcal adn not about the people. Althought it is probably impossible to strip politics from legislation, we can most certainly work to curb it--starting with campaign finance laws and term limits.