Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Those pesky voters

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue found herself in some hot water with her recent comments that maybe we'd be better off by doing away with elections for a little while. Here's the key quote:
"I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won't hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover. I really hope that someone can agree with me on that...You want people who don't worry about the next election."
Peter Orszag, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, as quoted by Peter Suderman appears to have some issues with democracy as well:
To solve the serious problems facing our country, we need to minimize the harm from legislative inertia by relying more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions. In other words, radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic...What we need, then, are ways around our politicians.
While both Perdue and Orszag have attracted a fair amount of flak on the right for their statements, their frustration with the democratic process is understandable. This anecdote from former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, assuming it's accurate, is rather revealing:
“When you want to do pension reform for the prison guards,” he says, “and all of a sudden the Republicans are all lined up against you. It was really incredible, and it happened over and over: people would say to me, ‘Yes, this is the best idea! I would love to vote for it! But if I vote for it some interest group is going to be angry with me, so I won’t do it.’ I couldn’t believe people could actually say that. You have soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they didn’t want to risk their political lives by doing the right thing.”
Gutless politicians afraid to do the right thing out of fear that they will be punished -- i.e. voted out of office (and BTW, it's difficult to look at legislative service as a terrible burden when the politicians are so afraid of losing office) -- by powerful interest groups doesn't exactly seem implausible. Little wonder that some people think that our system could do with just a bit less democracy, either through fewer elections or the empowerment of technocrats to make the decisions instead of politicians.

Of course, the obvious problem with both of these approaches is that the only thing more terrifying than rule by elected politicians is rule by unelected government officials and unaccountable members of Congress. While the status quo is certainly problematic, the alternatives are even worse.

Everyone wants to somehow fix government, but the uncomfortable reality is that government can't be fixed. It is by its very nature a deeply flawed system, based on the need to forge consensus from disparate interest groups that -- at best -- produces imperfect results. Because these flaws are so inherent, the only truly workable solution is to minimize its impact on our lives and reduce the scope of this defective institution.

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