In the heady days of the early 1960s, Democrats began to flirt with the idea of enduring partisan dominance, fancying themselves a permanent majority. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who had both been a Kennedy and Johnson aide and shared in the headiness of the moment, later welcomed the Republican advances in the 1966 midterms. Several pro-civil rights members of the GOP were elected, and Moynihan also thought Democrats could use the chastening. He later wrote: “There had been much talk of the United States moving toward a ‘one and one-half party system,’ with the Democrats permanently in office and the Republicans a … Continue reading Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the Need for Credible Opposition
George F. Will has this column out today on a transparent attempt by Democratic members of Congress to intimidate media outlets that, in his words, “distribute conservative content, or what nowadays passes for that.” Will’s conclusion is key: Disinformation is fundamentally a problem of consumption rather than supply. There is a point at which a people incapable of—or worse, uninterested in—distinguishing truth from fiction lacks the modicum of virtue that James Madison said self-government requires. If that is the case, the problem is far deeper than partisan or even extremist information ecosystems. Suppressing them would not help even if doing … Continue reading George Will on Free Speech and Conservative Media
Ben Kleinerman has made a compelling case that the partisan reversal on constitutional authority for U.S. airstrikes in Syria shows the separation of powers at work. I have a friendly amendment, or at least one to propose: Ben’s case is true with two qualifications. First, the reversal should be institutional, not partisan. That is, members of Congress should question presidential authority as members of Congress, not based on partisan alignments for or against President Biden. If Democrats and Republicans who stay in Congress across changes in presidential administrations are situational constitutionalists based on who occupies the White House, Madison’s case … Continue reading Syrian Airstrikes: A Friendly Amendment to Ben Kleinerman’s Post?
Thomas Koenig has published an essay at Merion West that deals with a book of mine on Madison, but that pivots to super-majority requirements like the filibuster. He raises important questions that deserve attention, including whether unreasonable obstacles to legislating divert policy disputes to the courts. The specific obstacle that concerns Koenig’s essay most is the filibuster. My own view is that Madison, a ready compromiser who was nonetheless all but ready to walk out of the Constitutional Convention over the “confessedly unjust” equality of state representation in the Senate, was too majoritarian to countenance the filibuster. That does not … Continue reading Thomas Koenig on Madison and the Filibuster
The impeachment trial included several arguments that should not be allowed to calcify into constitutional precedents. They should, instead, be treated like Lincoln treated Dred Scott: as pertaining to the immediate case but open to challenge in future ones. To wit: Impeachment as Criminal Trial: Trump’s defenders argued that his behavior did not meet the criminal definition of incitement. But he was never charged with a criminal offense that threatened his liberty. He was, rather, impeached through a political process whose sole object—and whose framework of discussion—should have distilled to one question: Did it serve the public good for Trump to be convicted … Continue reading Closing Thoughts on Impeachment: Bad Precedents
The simplest explanation for the political cravenness of Donald Trump’s enablers is that they want to retain power. The corresponding puzzle is their reticence about using it: What is this power for if they are unwilling to exercise it in order to defend their branch of government? That is a large question with an extended history. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have long been reluctant to utilize the power at their disposal to defend legislative authority. Their go-to move is to ask the courts to adjudicate disputes between the executive and legislative branches instead. But the trend is reaching its apotheosis … Continue reading The Hoarding Compulsion in Politics
Because she showed no signs of interest in legislating anyway, the House of Representatives’ forthcoming vote to strip Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments is largely symbolic — which is fine; symbols should matter to self-governing peoples. Still, Greene is not wanting for platforms for her demagoguery, so the move will probably not much punish her. What it will do is punish her constituents, who will lose leverage in the forums where routine, transactional politics occurs. That is a good thing. They, not just she, should be accountable for her behavior. Holding voters responsible is essential to the … Continue reading Stripping Marjorie Taylor Greene of Her Committees Would Punish Her Constituents. Good.
I’m a bit late to the party on this, but Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, recently offered one of the more strained arguments against an impeachment trial for former President Trump. It would be, he said the weekend before last, “arrogant” to disqualify Trump from running for office again. “Who are we to tell voters who they can vote for in the future?” Rubio mistakes not just the impeachment power but also the nature of constitutional government itself. Written constitutions place all manner of restraints on the people. Try Rubio’s argument from the opposite side. Consider, hypothetically, an … Continue reading Constitutions as Self-Restraint
I appreciate Laura Field’s thoughtful response to my argument for less politics. She suggests I understate the scale of problems society faces today. That may be the case. There is an equal danger in overstating them and, in particular, in overstating their relationship to politics. Laura correctly notes that my premise, and our disagreement, depends on what we mean by politics. She agrees we need less Trumpism but more engagement with problems like inequality and racism that made Trumpism possible. I certainly agree we need less Trumpism, against which I have been outspoken since he descended the gilded escalator in … Continue reading The Case for Less Politics: Thoughts on Laura Field’s Reply
Joe Biden’s call for an end to America’s “uncivil wars” rests on an irony. The foremost task he has chosen as president is to unify the nation. Continue reading We Need a Memorably Forgettable President