Politics

Vetocracy

Since the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, the Federal Government of the United States of America has shut down 18 times, including last night.

In the 16,000 or so days since the Act was passed, the government has been open and operating for all but 136 of them.

99% of the time, the government has been open. In most cases, 99% success is a pretty lofty goal. In some though, it’s not. If modern travel methods were 99% safe, 400 planes a day would crash. We’d go less than a month without wrecking our cars.

Success is a relative term.

With our government, we insist that it be funded. And when it’s not, we do that thing that we do with politics. We get to work on figuring out who to blame and what political ground we can hold or make up with the spin we craft.

Was it the Schumer shut down?

Or was it the Trump shut down?

How can a government with all three branches controlled by the same party not agree to continue to function?

There have been 18 shut downs in my life time. There were none before that, unless of course we count the times we threw out the Constitution to respond to the crisis’ of things like Civil War, the Great Depression or anti-terrorism hysteria.

What could lead to such decay?

What societal rot has gotten us to this point?

Trump-ism? Progressive lunacy? Neo-liberal thumb twittling?

Actually, it’s because we passed a law in 1974 that gave Congress the power to do it. Before that they couldn’t. We did it because President Nixon impounded $12 billion of funds that Congress had appropriated for a purposes Nixon didn’t agree with. So now, in order to spend any tax payers’ money, Congress has to do something that’s particularly difficult—and getting more difficult—to do.

Agree on something.

The long view history of our government will tell you that the 1974 Congressional Budget and Appropriations Act was simply another chapter in the long process of adding checks to our government built on the principle of checks and balances.

It’s worth noting, the checks, have the floor these days. The balance, well, does it matter when nothing can get done anyway? The result is what political scientist Francis Fukuyama refers to as a “vetocracy”. It’s a particular type of political decay where by dysfunction sets in through a system of governance “whereby no single entity can acquire enough power to make decisions and take effective charge.”

The President can’t do anything without getting the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to agree. The Congress can’t pass budgets because they can’t agree on anything. The Supreme Court spent a year with eight members because Congress wouldn’t confirm anyone.

All the while we wave helplessly at opportunities like healthcare reform, infrastructure development and defense modernization as they pass us by.

I’m less skeptical of our systems of checks and balances than Fukuyama is, though it’s worth noting he’s written volumes, literally, on the subject. And I certainly don’t mind a reasonable level of gridlock while we have an Executive Branch led by a president intent on scaring the daylights out of half his constituents and most of the global community via Twitter on a daily basis. But there’s something to the acceleration of decay Fukuyama identifies.

It’s hard to imagine that the 2016 election and the last year of federal soap opera aren’t some trickle-down impact of it.

It leaves me to reflect on a few thoughts.

The system is inherently designed with friction to slow down progress. We are a nation of laws so any change in that regard requires the system change itself. The only way that system changes is through radical change in the nature of the representatives of our representative government.

The only way this gets better…is to…drain the swamp.

Forgive me.

Right now, the only source providing the energy and unity of message to drain that swamp is the same force that gave us Steve Bannon. And Donald Trump. And Roy Moore.

Don’t look now but Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff pardoned by President Trump after being convicted of contempt of court because he refused court orders to stop violating the civil rights of his constituents through racial profiling in policing methods, is running for Senate to replace Republican Senator Jeff Flake.

Flake retired because there was no room for his reasonable dignity in Trump’s GOP.

The hard reality for American politics, for now at least, is that we’re stuck with the gridlock of vetocracy. Or the lunacy of what fills the swamp when we drain it.

I’m not sure the shut down is a problem.

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