Madisonian Democracy

Charles Pierce, at the Esquire politics blog, has a fantastic piece on the Wisconsin recall that manages to cut through all the noise about money and labor and Citizens United and become actually somewhat moving.

The key lines, for me:

What we have here is a fight, out in the open, without nuance or euphemism, between two ideas of what self-government should look like, who it should serve, and how, and how wide the parameters of participation will be. That is serious business. It ought to be contested fiercely and to the last and without cosmetic conciliation.

 I agree with Mr. Pierce wholeheartedly.  Whenever I read editorial boards bemoaning the death of civility and bipartisan comity in American politics, it reads to me like old ballplayers lamenting the home runs the whippersnappers hit these days.  Out of touch, sure.  But more importantly, treating it like a game. It’s not a game.

The turmoil that has ripped apart Wisconsin isn’t happening because people have forgotten how to be polite – it’s because it matters, and matters a lot.  The governor and his opponents have sharply differing visions of how society ought to work, and it’s frankly good that they are fighting it out in the public arena.  Civility is nice to have, but I think it’s frankly delusional to hold up bipartisanship as some sort of ideal.  If people agreed on things, they would be in the same party.  Politics ain’t beanbag, as they say, and what’s happening in Wisconsin is that labor and business are playing for keeps.  Obviously I hope that labor wins, but I’m not optimistic.

The real problem with political norms, on a national level, is with institutions that allow the electoral losers to continue to dictate policy.  We can’t really do much about polarization, since that’s just a consequence of the dissolution of the Fifth Party System, but it really does pair poorly with our current institutional setup.  I think it’s probably a bad idea for political parties to hold the economy hostage with the threat of default, whether Republican or Democratic.  I worry that this will become a regular ritual for the Republicans if Obama wins.

I seem to have gotten off track.  The important thing – Wisconsin.  A state truly acting, today, as the laboratory of democracy whether for good or bad.


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