Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the Need for Credible Opposition

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

Legislative Oversight is Fine

Thanks to Greg Weiner for calling our attention to the recent provocative column by George Will on legislative oversight of the media ecosystem. I am a long time fan and a friend of George Will. The issues he raises here, and almost always, are worth taking very seriously. But there are two serious errors in this column. The first mistake is to stipulate in advance that there is no legislative oversight role for the problem of a polluted media ecosystem because it is hard to envision legislative solutions. Oversight hearings are useful precisely because they help the citizenry understand what … Continue reading Legislative Oversight is Fine

George Will on Free Speech and Conservative Media

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

A Common Script for Dislodging Trumpism – Retrospective Thoughts on Impeachment 2.0

As some of my colleagues here know, I was a bit frustrated throughout the second impeachment that there wasn’t more focus on Trump’s dereliction of duty on January 6. It seemed clear to me at the time that the dereliction charge would have been more intuitive than the incitement to violence charge, because everyone knew at the time that, in the very least, Trump failed to protect the Capitol when it mattered. It seemed to me that setting the bar low like this would have made conviction more likely. Jeffrey Tulis and Bill Kristol wrote about this in the lead-up … Continue reading A Common Script for Dislodging Trumpism – Retrospective Thoughts on Impeachment 2.0

A Clarification on the Separation of Powers

I agreed with Ben’s essential point that within the separation of powers we can expect President Biden to have a somewhat different perspective on executive power than candidate Biden or, especially, Senator Biden. That point was about the institution shaping the occupant of the office. That’s embodied in Madison’s famous line about the interests of the office holder being connected to the “constitutional rights of the place.”  I am skeptical, however, that this understanding of the separation of powers captures our contemporary Congress. Ben takes heart that even while Republicans were reluctant to resist President Trump, the fact that they … Continue reading A Clarification on the Separation of Powers

Separation of Parties, not Powers?

Both George and Greg suggest that my separation of powers argument concerning Biden’s air strikes doesn’t square with the fact that political parties have replaced the separation of powers. I agree with them that this has now become the conventional opinion regarding the separation of powers. And, as they rightly note, the dominance of parties over powers is especially clear during unified control of government. The majority party in Congress doesn’t assert its institutional rights very strongly if it also controls the Presidency. That being said, I think this argument is somewhat overstated. Ultimately, it depends some on thinking of … Continue reading Separation of Parties, not Powers?

Separation of Powers? Or Separation of Parties?

I think Greg Weiner’s friendly amendment to Ben Kleinerman’s argument may be more than an amendment. What Greg rightly notes is that the logic of the separation of powers should be institutional, not partisan. It is not particularly odd that President Biden sees things differently than Senator Biden. He occupies a different office with different obligations and responsibilities. This is the constitutionally induced hypocrisy that Ben speaks of. (Having said that, Greg is entirely right that there should be principled limits on what the executive is willing to push.) But when members of Congress are what Greg calls “situational constitutionalists,” … Continue reading Separation of Powers? Or Separation of Parties?

Syrian Airstrikes: A Friendly Amendment to Ben Kleinerman’s Post?

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?

Syrian Air Strikes and Presidential Authority

In the wake of Biden’s air strikes against Syria, many of his opponents are returning to statements he and Kamala Harris made critical of Trump for similar kinds of strikes. Although I understand the inevitable politics of these things, I would suggest that we’re witnessing the separation of powers succeed. As President, Biden has a different set of responsibilities than he did as a presidential candidate or as an opponent of the past President. Given this difference, it shouldn’t surprise us that he is behaving differently. The Constitution itself induces and even encourages such hypocrisy. Senators have certain kinds of … Continue reading Syrian Air Strikes and Presidential Authority

The Danger of All-or-Nothing Elections and the Claremont Message

Milikh’s message might still make Laura uncomfortable but, to the extent that it is political rather than doomsday-ish, I think it a very important advancement. Our democracy depends on an intelligible conservatism that isn’t flirting every four years with rhetoric about the death of all civilization. Continue reading The Danger of All-or-Nothing Elections and the Claremont Message