Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Charley Pierce articulates a point that I've been musing over lately:
I don't believe there ever has been a time like this in our history. We have had periods of severe political polarization before, but those were periods in which the government was polarized because of conflicting ideas of what the national government should do. Right now, we have a polarization based on the fact that an uncontrollable faction of one of our two political parties — a faction with its own sources of money and power that exist outside conventional political accountability — has decided that the only thing that the national government should do is nothing, a faction that is perfectly situated to make that at least part of a political reality, and a faction that is growing even faster out in the states than it is in Washington. What is leadership if there's more political profit in ignoring your leaders than in being led? Who, in that case, rules? The truly terrifying answer to that is that nobody does. Or, at least, nobody who is elected does. 
I think that is is pretty true. My PoliSci mentor, Professor Edward Janosik, used to tell us that in the US political parties were essentially non-ideological. He was right, naturally. My summer reading at the moment is present volume in Robert Caro's Lyndon Johnson epic, The Passage of Power, and there it is: Richard Russell and John F. Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey and John Stennis-- all Democrats. You could play the same mix'n'match with Republicans, and that was the point-- although the two parties were vying for political advantage, they were not so polarized by  ideology as to be incapable of functioning.That said, the number of veto points embedded in the American system of government means that it is not difficult to shut things down: as Caro notes, that's exactly what happened to the JFK administration. I would be interested in seeing an empirical study on Congressional stalls since, say, the Truman administration, because I am not so sure that what we are seeing at present is actually unique.

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