It's Just Legislation

Having a number of fairly liberal friends and acquaintances, it struck me recently how many blog posts and facebook updates I’d seen lately that began, “I was just watching one of the anti-health-reform protests and I’m just so angry right now.”

I get that many on the progressive side are very, very excited about whichever of the major proposals in the congress at this point ends up being the chosen one by Obama (despite the fact that none of them actually get that close to being what progressives have wanted in regards to health care reform for all these years), if only because they’re very excited to see Obama succeed at whatever he tries. But it strikes me that there’s a difference in how people think about the state and about legislation at play here as well. Thinking back, I can’t recall any example of a piece of legislation on any topic that I was so excited about that it made me angry to see people out protesting against it. Sure, there have been a few things that I’ve strongly supported (like the marriage amendment ballot initiative in California; the national partial birth abortion ban, etc.) or strongly opposed. But there’s nothing I found myself so worked up about that I felt it necessary to watch the protests for or against and then get furious that there were opponents out there — whether their sentiments were fair and honest or not.

My thinking would tend to be, “Hey, it’s just legislation. We win or we lose.” But then, that springs from a basic assumption that things will not change very much from the status quo, that the government will work no miracles for us or against us, and that on a day to day basis the government basically is and should be invisible to us. That seems to be a set of assumptions which many on the more progressive side of the political realm do not share.

21 Responses to It's Just Legislation

  • That struck me at first too. I think on reflection, though, that the reasons it is upsetting are fairly clear:

    1) Liberals had/have very high hopes for Obama; and they’ve had to wait 15 years for someone to try health care reform again after the HillaryCare debacle.

    2) If health care reform fails, it will be damaging for him and for the political party they support.

    3) In addition to wanting Democrats to succeed, they (like everyone else) think the U.S. health care system is in desperate need of reform, and believe that this particular legislation is the best way to fix it.

    4) Much of the criticism of the legislation – as with the opposition to any legislation – is based on fear-mongering and distortions.

    Put all these together, and it seems like the good Democrats are trying to do a good thing for the country, but the evil Republicans working for evil purposes are harming the country by lying to it. If I shared a few more of those premises, I’d be upset also.

  • JH,
    is based on fear-mongering and distortions.

    or is it based on reasonable expectations of what government bureaucrats will do based on observation and deduction?

    I think the point being made here is very interesting. I feel disdain the gay activists, tree-huggers and animal rights activists, but not anything approaching anger (except when they go beyond protesting to terrorism). I am angry at private business who take MY MONEY and spend it on liberal causes, or when the government does it, but if people want to invest their own time and money into such nonsense, let it be.

  • Speaking from the progressive side, I can’t say I’m very excited or angry at the current situation. However, the snippet above struck me:

    ” … on a day to day basis the government basically is and should be invisible to us …”

    … as being very much akin to the attitude of bullies, or worse, criminals. “Don’t watch us too closely,” accompanied by an Eddie Haskell grin.

    My concern is that when government (aka the law) looks the other way, the rich and powerful have free reign to do as they wish. The small government meme is pretty much a non-starter for Republicans. They actually like Big Gov when it keeps the gravy running to the corporate train station. The main thing I’m looking for (and don’t expect to see it from the Dems) is an end to corporate lawlessness.

  • … as being very much akin to the attitude of bullies, or worse, criminals. “Don’t watch us too closely,” accompanied by an Eddie Haskell grin.

    Todd, the key phrase was ‘on a day to day basis’. Now, on a day to day basis, you are more than likely (in a metropolitan area) to catch sight of postmen, cops, firemen, street cleaners, garbage collectors, ploughmen, men in manholes, or city parks and forestry employees. It is rather excessively literal-minded to infer that these folk are those to which he was referring. None of the foregoing are going to protect you from Citibank or Texaco, by the way..

    My concern is that when government (aka the law) looks the other way, the rich and powerful have free reign to do as they wish. The small government meme is pretty much a non-starter for Republicans. They actually like Big Gov when it keeps the gravy running to the corporate train station.

    Barney Frank and Robert Rubin are Democrats.

  • I think the invisibility of government concept is more akin to a good referee. While keeping the game fair and within the rules, you shouldn’t really notice he’s there. In other words, he shouldn’t become a deciding factor in the game.

  • … as being very much akin to the attitude of bullies, or worse, criminals. “Don’t watch us too closely,” accompanied by an Eddie Haskell grin.

    My concern is that when government (aka the law) looks the other way, the rich and powerful have free reign to do as they wish.

    See, I guess my thought is: the government is pretty much run by the rich and the powerful, so when we go in the direction of letting the government run more things, it’s unlikely to result in the rich and the powerful being reigned in very much. Sure, they may take out a few of their own who cross the lines, but overall the government will look out for those that run it. And the fact that we can vote doesn’t change the fact there’s an aristocracy of sorts that actually ends up holding office and running things — whichever party wins out.

    So I have very little expectation that a larger government will serve to reign in the excesses of large companies. Big business and big government get along too well. But government is very, very good at making life hard for ordinary people and especially small businesses. Trying to start and run a small side-business is an incredible education into how difficult and intrusive government can be in ways that do very little to increase the safety of the “little guy”.

    Rather than relying on one party or the other to magically change that dynamic, I’d rather the government keep its brief as small as possible.

  • it seems to me that “small government” can actually be effective at keeping big business from illegal behavior. I’ll take a state or county prosecutor who must go to his constituents for re-election over an appointed federal prosecutor who serves at the whim of political interests in Washington.

  • Agreed, Matt. I wouldn’t see the “small government” approach as meaning “big companies get away with whatever they want” so much as:

    – Get rid of all subsidies.
    – A simple tax code and tarrif code (or ideally, simply free trade — real free trade, not 200 page “free trade” agreements)
    – A clear and fairly simple law code
    – Rigorous enforcement of that code

    I’d tend to see that as, in the end, being much more able to protect the “little guy” than a faith that a subsidy here, a tax break here, an extra tax there, and lots of regulators running around all over will somehow result in an optimal result — when the only people who can hire enough lawyers and consultants to understand it all at that point are the largest entities.

    But then, that’s what makes me fairly conservative…

  • “- Get rid of all subsidies.
    – A simple tax code and tarrif code (or ideally, simply free trade — real free trade, not 200 page “free trade” agreements)
    – A clear and fairly simple law code
    – Rigorous enforcement of that code”

    A nice list. Too bad American conservatives, as a whole, and especially Republicans, don’t believe in any of this. It’s really a matter of favoritism, and it happens both federally and locally.

    It gets back to the point about “just legislation.” It would be nice to see it. I share the skepticism that major party politics are in favor of any sort of change, be it abortion legislation, insurance reform, or whatnot.

  • Be I not mistaken, but I believe that reports are that Wall Street donates more to the Democratic Party than to the Republican.

    This echoes George Steinbrenner explanation of why he donated to the Dems: “They’re better for business”.

  • Gabriel,

    I believe that is true. One big contributor to the Dems was Bernie Maddoff:

    http://spectator.org/archives/2009/01/05/de-funder-of-the-left

  • See, I guess my thought is: the government is pretty much run by the rich and the powerful,

    Some years ago, I read an essay by a political scientist deconstructing a book by Ralph Nader, Who Runs Congress. The conclusion of said academic: “Congress runs Congress”, just in ways Mr. Nader does not like.

    I think you will find if you research matters that the generically wealthy are not notably influential, except perhaps in fairly restricted spheres. Institutions and organized constituencies have influence, and they are motivated to acquire it in part because of extant state intervention in their sectors. That would be the casino banks, to be sure, but also the United Auto Workers, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Association of Retired Persons, and (on the local level) the real estate business. The shnooks that run Citigroup are big rich; the remainder are not.

    I also suspect that you will discover that much of the trouble you have with commercial law and regulation is the result of accretion, inattention, and incompetence. With reference to another of our threads, legislators who cannot be bothered to come up with intelligent alternatives to ‘three-strikes’ laws (a simple problem) likely are unwilling to put the effort into a more intricate exercise of scraping the barnacles off the federal or state commercial code (as amended by regulation and case law). I had an instructor many years ago much enamored of public choice theory who maintained that William Proxmire was nearly alone in Congress in concerning himself with the actual implementation of policy by federal agencies, the rest of them figuring there was nothing in it for them.

    A nice list. Too bad American conservatives, as a whole, and especially Republicans, don’t believe in any of this. It’s really a matter of favoritism, and it happens both federally and locally.

    Todd, I think you will look in vain for literature in economics journals or in opinion magazines making the case for business subsidies. You might find it in the business press, but not elsewhere. As for legislators, politicians are politicians. They commonly, though not universally, fellate constituency groups. The notion that this is a peculiarly partisan phenomenon cannot be taken seriously. Ask yourself who stood athwart history yelling STOP! to efforts to reform the accounting and improve the capitalization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or who has been among those impeding debt-for-equity swaps to recapitalize the megabanks. His name is Barney Frank and he runs the House Banking Committee.

  • Art Deco,

    Good point. A more precise formulation would be that influence is predominatly had by those who have a strong interest in the outcome and who have the time to make their wishes heard. Doubly so if they contol either money or large numbers of votes — or better yet, both.

    This certainly means that anyone who is rich or powerful can get a good hearing if they want to, but unions and interest groups also get a lot of play. Though in a sense, I’d argue that ability pretty much defines you as “powerfu” even if not “rich”.

    I guess what it seems to me is that since our government has its finger in so many pies, legislators really have very little time to investigate any given topic, so they tend to listen to whoever is willing to sit down with them and explain to them how things ought to be — especially if its also someone who supports them with votes or money.

  • Art, I’m not sure exactly for what you’re making your case. I think I’ve already stated my opinion that politicians being owned is non-partisan, generally speaking.

    Getting back to DC’s original point, it’s largely why my spectatorship of the current political cycle is without excitement or anger. I confess that when corporations get nervous about legislation, that’s usually a good marker. There’s also the entertainment value to see so-called “values” conservatives wring their hands, and get caught up in a degree of hypocrisy. That’s pretty much the most I can wring out of current events. What about y’all?

  • Well, Todd, I am occasionally reminded that politicians are not the only poseurs in this world.

  • I confess that when corporations get nervous about legislation, that’s usually a good marker.

    I’m not sure why seeing a particular group of corporations “nervous” about legislation would necessarily be a good thing. Corporations survive and thrive via a Smithian self-interest — that is, a self interest which is only fulfilled through fulfilling the self interest of others. It’s possible this alleged nervousness would indicate that, in the case of health care reform, insurance companies are in danger of making lower profits. But then, as I wrote about a while ago, insurance companies are not really making profits which are all that high in the first place. If they’re concerned that their revenues will be going down rather than their profit margins, that would almost certainly be an indication that people would be getting less health care overall — as would, for instance, be the case with getting rid of the MediCare Advantage program, as the Administration wants to do.

    Now, some would clearly consider that to be a good thing. The administration is obviously convinced that the “extra” benefits people are getting through MediCare Advantage are not actually of great benefit to the seniors getting them (or else are things they can afford to pay for on their own) but clearly it’s stuff that the seniors themselves are rather attached to. And so in the end, it’s they who are rather more nervous than the corporation.

    There’s also the entertainment value to see so-called “values” conservatives wring their hands, and get caught up in a degree of hypocrisy.

    I’m not really clear here the hypocrisy comes in. “Values voters” who are conservative don’t generally trust the government to do things well, and they particularly don’t trust politicians who are big fans of abortion and euthanasia, so I’m not really sure why it’s inconsistent of them not to trust the party of abortion and euthanasia to reform the health care industry in a way that would in any way be good for the population.

  • “I’m not sure why seeing a particular group of corporations “nervous” about legislation would necessarily be a good thing.”

    It’s an anti-narcissism thing. Corporations often have interests at odds from the good of society.

    “I’m not really clear here the hypocrisy comes in.”

    Neither major political party is sufficiently pro-life, assuming one includes issues like torture in one’s firmament of conception to natural death.

  • Corporations often have interests at odds from the good of society.

    And yet corporations only succeed in existing by providing some sizeable number of people with something that they want or need. Indeed, one could well argue that they are much more directly at the mercy of the people’s will than government is.

    Neither major political party is sufficiently pro-life, assuming one includes issues like torture in one’s firmament of conception to natural death.

    Given that Obama has made virtually no changes on “issues like torture” from the status quo of Bush’s second term, I’m not clear how this is decisive, much less relevant to the health care debate.

  • I find this discussion very interesting. I think we are all in some kind of a fog, caught between the Republican’ts and the Demoncrats. Is there really a difference? I know Republican’ts are pro-Life, right? I don’t believe that. I think they pay life lip-service. I am not saying ALL R or ALL D are that way, I am talking about the party in general.

    This is not Right vs. Left, this is a hallucination. It is Right vs. Wrong and both of them are often wrong. The fact is that all American’s should be conservative and none should be Republican or Democrat in their current incarnations. Why? Because the founding of this nation is inherently conservative, despite the fact that the founders can be described as liberals (in the classical form). This is true because the Constitution is supposed to be the Supreme Law of the land and it has respect for The Supreme Law’s of God (this is good even for secular humanists because they can only survive in a nation based on Christian law). We all should want to CONSERVE the Constitution and run government within those CONSERVATIVE parameters. Of course this means most of the actions of government for the last 100 years for BOTH parties would be illicit. This is true because neither party is conservative although the elephants have brief moments of clarity and then slip back into their old habits of being Democrats from 40 years ago.

    If, in fact, we were all Constitutionally conservative, then we can all make the statement that it is ‘just a piece of legislation’, which would do something within the enumerated parameters of the Constitution. We can then trust that the delegates would only be able to exercise their limited authority on issues that would be virtually invisible to all of us because our state an commonwealth laws would be more relevant, declaration of war excluded. If Congress set the weight of our money and the immoral, usurious, so-called Federal Reserve cartel didn’t exist then funding for BIG government would be severely curtailed and conservative thrift would rule, which facilitates a more moral rule. The Constitution is designed to create a free-trade zone within the borders of the USA, ensure republican government, set standards of weight, money, etc. and settle disputes that may arise between the states (preferably without invading any of them). Those would be ‘just pieces of legislation’ and they would also be more likely to be Just.

    A Constitutional Republic with sound money and a Christian-moral base would not be the welfare/warfare giant it is today. The truly poor would be raised up, instead of kept as an excuse for larger welfare departments while they are socially engineered to be slaves. The corpratist interests would have to be effective in order to survive in a competitive environment; rather than securing welfare for the corporations from the government largesse and controlling the government in a sick, incestuous relationship. Wars would need to actually be just and when war is declared it would be expedient and necessary to win and win quickly with superior numbers to reduce damage, cost and loss of lives.

    The constant bickering between so-called liberals/progressives and so-called conservatives is only about the methods and intent of the pre-determined outcome which is simply MORE government. And we are all happy with it when it is AGREEING with us and ANGRY when it isn’t. The truth is it isn’t good either way in its current form and seeks only to make us the DIVIDED states of America. We all need to reach back to our authentic CONSERVATIVE roots and return this country to the place she belongs. Bastion and beacon of human liberty so men are free to seek salvation or perdition.

  • DarwinCatholic writes Tuesday, September 22, 2009 A.D.
    “My concern is that when government (aka the law) looks the other way, the rich and powerful have free rein to do as they wish.
    See, I guess my thought is: the government is pretty much run by the rich and the powerful, so when we go in the direction of letting the government run more things, it’s unlikely to result in the rich and the powerful being reigned in very much. Sure, they may take out a few of their own who cross the lines, but overall the government will look out for those that run it. And the fact that we can vote doesn’t change the fact there’s an aristocracy of sorts that actually ends up holding office and running things — whichever party wins out”.

    The subject was thoroughly and repeatedly discussed by GKC. He referred to the plutocrats, a group that came to have the power in England in the early 19th Century. It is pretty much the same in the U.S. today.

    I note simply in passing that corporations [actually executives, who run the corporations despite the stockholders and their "representatives", the board of directors] are not particularly the villains. They are part and parcelof the U.S. polity.

  • The problem we are discussing is exactly what the genius of the Founding Fathers was seeking to prevent.

    By expanding government well beyond the Constitutional parameters and delegating power that the Constitution forbids to be delegated – control of the money supply – to a private corporation, we have distorted what American government is supposed to be.

    We have created a powerful monster that is a highly desirous prize to secure power and wealth and lord it over everyone else. A small cabal of unscrupulous and arrogant individuals now have the ability to control the fate of millions of people and trillions of units of money, which consolidates the power and the wealth.

    These are the ideological descendants of the same group that did it in France and Germany and Britian beginning centuries ago. Only now they are more bold and powerful.

    This Republic was made for a moral and religious people precisely because without that strong moral backbone for the governed it is inevitable that government will be used for sinister purposes and sadly it is by the consent of the governed. The elite insiders have illegally blended government and industry in a fascist concoction, but not enough people are on the take — yet. Once the receivers of government wealth transfers exceed the producers it is game over. We need not go there.

    We need to return to limited, consitutional government and federalism (subsidiarity). Once the Constitution is restored, then the power of the oligarchy will vanish. Sadly, this is something that Republicans and Democrats and everyone in between should agree on. Yet, we bicker becuase we like the power when our guy or our party is seemingly in control of the machine. This is a false illusion. The real control is always hidden. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, just tear at each other’s throats to be the winners and have your inneffectual idiot stand as figurehead next. Mmm . . . what’s in this Kool-Aid?

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