Tom Ferguson: “Standstill Nation” as the New Abnormal?

By Tom Ferguson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Cross posted from New Deal 2.0

Gridlock is not a reflection of ‘the way things have always been’. It’s the result of a GOP-conjured tide of money that emerged in the mid-80s and 90s, leaving us polarized and paralyzed.

On Sunday, the New York Times closed out its “Week in Review” section after a run of 76 years. With Republicans and most Democrats back singing the praises of deregulation, smaller government, and tax cuts less than three years after that old song brought the world to its knees, we should probably have expected a grateful “Invisible Hand” would drop by to wave goodbye.

And so it happened. Times correspondent Peter Baker celebrated the famous Hand’s magical ability to resolve not economic complexity, but political stalemate. “Mad at Beltway gridlock and can’t take it anymore?” asked the headline. To which Baker answered: “Paralysis (alas) is one way things are supposed to work.” He went on to explain that “for all the handwringing about how the system is broken, this is the system as it was designed and is now adapted for the digital age.” In support of this complacency, Baker enlisted Vice President Joe Biden, who “emerged last week to defend the system’s ability to get things done despite all appearances to the contrary. It may be maddening, it may be drawn out, but he argued, at the end of the day, Washington does what it has to do.”

Thus Baker’s argument continued, leavened only by a few careful hedges noting that reality has not as yet conformed to this Panglossian script and that unemployed Americans might assess the government’s paralysis a little differently. At the very end, Baker cautiously put forward a suggestion first broached by Peter Orzag, formerly President Obama’s budget chief before he fled to Citigroup, that the Hand might, like so many other aging Americans, benefit from a prosthesis: legislation that would remorselessly chop government programs unless Congress acted to stop it.

Let’s try to clarify why Congress is actually gridlocked. The bottom line is, alas, a bottom line. It is not complicated. And it has nothing to do with any design for a digital age, as Baker proposes.

In the mid-1980s, a group of insurgent Republicans broke with the long established norms governing how the U.S. House of Representatives transacted business. Led by Newt Gingrich, it derided older Republican House leaders as timid, unimaginative, and too inclined to compromise with Democrats. Self-styled “revolutionaries” launched vigorous public attacks on Democrats as they trumpeted their own agenda of deregulation, budget cuts, lower taxes, and a baker’s dozen of social issues, from abortion to opposition to all forms of gun control.

Result? The House boiled over. Statistical measures of Congressional behavior show that party line votes jumped sharply.

Gingrich and his allies were painfully aware that transforming the GOP’s gains at the presidential level into a true “critical realignment” of the political system as a whole required breaking the Democratic lock on Congress. So they shattered all records for Congressional fundraising in their drive to get control of the House. Their success in this and their parallel campaign to rally major parts of the media to their standard are what polarized the system. The GOP insurgents emphasized fundraising, not just through the usual publicly reported vehicles like the national party committees, but also GOPAC, a political action committee that Gingrich had controlled since 1986, which operated mostly in secret.

In 1992, in the midst of a recession, the Republicans lost the White House. But their dreams of a sweeping political realignment did not die. In fact, by clearing centrist Republicans out of their perches in the White House, the loss probably helped Gingrich and his allies.

Completely undaunted, Gingrich, Republican National Chair Haley Barbour, and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Phil Gramm orchestrated a vast national campaign to recapture Congress for the Republicans in the 1994 elections. With the economy stuck in a “jobless recovery” and Democratic fundraising sputtering, the Republicans won control of both houses of Congress.

The tidal wave of political money they conjured allowed Gingrich, Gramm, Barbour and Co., to brush aside older, less combative center-right Republican leaders and persist in their efforts to roll back the New Deal and remake American society in the image of free market fundamentalism. Once in power, the Republicans institutionalized sweeping rules changes in the House and the Republican caucus that vastly increased the leadership’s influence over House legislation. They also implemented a formal “pay to play” system that had both inside and outside components.

On the outside, DeLay and other GOP leaders, including Grover Norquist, who headed Americans for Tax Reform, mounted a vast campaign (the so-called “K Street Project”) to defund the Democrats directly by pressuring businesses to cut off donations and avoid retaining Democrats as lobbyists. Inside the House, Gingrich made fundraising for the party a requirement for choice committee assignments. Senate Republicans, led by Phil Gramm and other apostles of deregulation, emulated the House.

And so, alas, did the Democrats. Watching the Republicans restructure their national political committees into giant ATMs capable of financing broad national campaigns left the Democrats facing the same dilemma they had in the late seventies, as the GOP’s Golden Horde first formed up behind Ronald Reagan. Democrats could respond by mobilizing their older mass constituencies. Or they could emulate the Republicans and just chase money. That battle had been settled in favor of so-called “New Democrats” (see Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers, “Right Turn“). Dependent for many years on campaign money from leading sectors of big business where regulation kept recreating divisions – notably finance and telecommunications (Ferguson, “Golden Rule“) – the Democrats reconfirmed their earlier decision to go for the gold.

They followed the Republicans and transformed both the national party committees and their Congressional delegations into cash machines, with leaders in each chamber, but especially the House, wielding substantially more power than at any time since the famous revolt that overthrew Speaker Cannon in 1910-11. As the Republicans moved further and further to the right, the Democrats did, too, constrained only by the need to preserve something of their mass base.

A feedback loop running between Congress and the mass media intensified the whole process: Congressional leaders of both parties now focused intently on creating sharper party profiles (“brands”) that would mobilize potential outside supporters and contributors. So they spent enormous amounts of time and money honing messages that were clear and simple enough to attract attention as they ricocheted out through the media to an increasingly jaded public. And they and the Republican leadership staged more and more votes not to move legislation, but to score points with some narrow slice of the public or signal important outside constituencies. For the same reasons, they made exemplary efforts to hold up bills by prolonging debate or, in the Senate, putting presidential nominations on hold.

Contrary to what popular pundits may say, there is nothing “normal” or constructive about a Congress dominated by centralized parties. We should not accept a Congress presided over by leaders with far more power than in recent decades, running the equivalent of hog calls for resources, trying to secure the widest possible audiences for their slogans and projecting their claims through a mass media that was more than happy to play along with right thinking spokespersons of both parties. The idea that putting government programs on an automatic chopping block is a step forward is equally outlandish. This is hardly government “doing what it has to do.” It may be what it is paid to do. But no one should confuse this with public policy that serves the interests of all Americans.

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  1. A la Huffington

    Impeach Obama, forcibly eject Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner before summer vacation. The whole system is an obsolete stage production that no longer pretends in Democracy, luddite scribes write obediently for pay, obscure the wealthiest who control access and write laws, describe [the] fairy tale written about repeatedly (daily) in a schmear of vacant intellectualism and creative death.
    Nobody really takes the NYT seriously on anything, most people hate banks as much as they hate politicans, but yet the “Web” is slowly being transformed into a bad tv commercial where absolute fantasy must be maintained and controlled.

  2. sglover

    The Senate is designed to act as a brake. I think it’s time to admit that

    1) The political design document known as the Constitution is obsolescent; the structures it describes are easily manipulated by concentrated power (which in practice means wealth), so that the government — which really is a crucial institution — is less and less able to serve public needs.

    2) Since the sainted founders were primarily concerned with maintaining and extending the privileges of their class, this is EXACTLY what they intended.

    Seeing clearly is the prerequisite to acting intelligently.

    1. Dan

      The problem with “Smash the constitution and rewrite it” is the same people in power now will be the ones rewriting it in their favor. Imagine a nation with the founding fathers being Limbaugh, Gingrich, the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch.

      1. sglover

        I agree. Honestly, I don’t see any legal/political fix in store for America. There’s no cosmic law that says there has to be one, after all….

    2. Devil's Advocate

      The problem is with the 16th and 17th amendments, not the constitution. The Senate was intended to belong to the States, not the People. There used to be four branches of government, not three. The Senate was the means by which the States could check the power of all three federal branches.
      The income tax is just asinine. Income is remuneration, not profit. Only profit is taxable.
      To tax profit is an acceptable “cost of doing business.”
      To tax a man’s wages is usury (extortion).

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You might do yourself a favor and educate yourself rather than looking only for confirmation of your prejudices. Ferguson ascribes plenty of blame to the Dems too. And he has the goods, he’s widely recognized for meticulous work in tracking campaign finance.

      1. Tom g

        You misunderstand, I stop reading anytime someone uses any type of false dichotomy. It’s precisely the lack of prejudice that keeps me level headed and helps me avoid frustration.

        1. Yearning to Learn

          You misunderstand, I stop reading anytime someone uses any type of false dichotomy

          actually, you misunderstand, partly because you didn’t read the article. your ignorance of the article removed your ability to comment about it intelligently.

          this article stated simply that it may have BEGUN with the “GOP tide of money”, but then goes on to state that the Democrats did EXACTLY the same thing
          (see you missed that because in your prejudice you stopped reading).

          the article then goes on to discuss how BOTH parties have ridden to the right in an effort to secure more and more funding from their financial backers. (again, you missed that too)

          there is no false dichotomy. there is no dichotomy even. it is simply showing that both parties are playing the exact same game plan.

          you can disagree with the idea that the GOP “started it” if you wish, but it is irrelevant to the point of the article: that BOTH parties have been captured by the moneyed elite (or have captured the moneyed elite?) and thus the entire political system is broken.

          I personally do agree that this time line is a reasonable interpretation of events, however again it really is irrelevant to our problem today.

      2. Ignim Brites

        It is just possible that the rising tide of money in our politics is driven by the increasing intensity of the divisions in the country not the other way around. People are afraid to consider the possibility that the nation is lost. Well, it is.

    2. hosswire

      I never have understood why anyone would proudly proclaim that they did NOT read something.

    3. Francois T

      Touchy-feely ain’t we?
      Unable to confront opinions or facts that go against your belief system?

      What happen when you try? Do you break a sweat while experiencing nut shrinkage, twitching lips and hands shaking?

      Try Mindfulness in Plain English

      It does help and open a lot of horizons.


  3. Hugh

    This is another in a long line of pointless posts that blames those mean old Republicans and casts our recent history in terms of conflicts between the two parties. First and foremost, it misses the central reality of kleptocracy. These were not men and women of good faith who got snookered by this or that political grouping. They were crooks building for themselves and their paymasters a kleptocratic state. Second, the political and economic foundations of our current kleptocracy started being laid back in the Carter Administration. Third, kleptocratic trends accelerated under Reagan. Democrats had a majority in the House for all 8 years of Reagan’s two terms. Fourth, Clintoncare crashed and burned back in 1993 when Democrats had control of both Houses. And even though in the last 6 years of the Clinton Administration, Republicans controlled both Houses and there was Monica Lewinsky and impeachment, Clinton in political terms ran circles around Congressional Republicans. At the same time, it was Clinton who signed Gramm-Leach-Bliley that undid Glass-Steagall and the CFMA that deregulated derivatives, this last owing more to Larry Summers, Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, than to the Republicans per se. Finally, this whole creating sharper, more partisan profiles is all kabuki. Both parties are profoundly corporatist and hostile to the interests of ordinary Americans. No amount of meaningless revisionist history can change that.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Did you actually read the piece? Ferguson clearly states the Dems chose to emulate the Republicans rather than choose other options:

      “Democrats could respond by mobilizing their older mass constituencies. Or they could emulate the Republicans and just chase money.” Which as he describes they did.

      In fact, in another Ferguson piece I posted here, he detailed the Dem “pay to play” system, and I have referred to that post repeatedly.

      Funny how attacks on the Republicans elicit more angry responses than ones on the Dems, when we feature those here regularly. The overview statement in italics is likely from ND 2.0, not Ferguson himself, but that is accurate albeit stated an a way that is likely to annoy.

      1. Yearning to Learn

        let me personally thank you for putting up with these commenters.

        My goodness, either they don’t read the article, or they simply can’t understand plain English.

        America is doomed if this is all we’ve got.

        “This is another in a long line of pointless posts that blames those mean old Republicans and casts our recent history in terms of conflicts between the two parties”

        are you insane? you clearly didn’t read the article.

        there IS continual conflict between the two parties (or don’t you read the newspapers). there is no question in my mind that much of the conflict is Kabuki theater for the masses, but conflict there still is. Thus the need for Obama’s $1 BILLION war chest.

        the political and economic foundations of our current kleptocracy started being laid back in the Carter Administration
        irrelevant to the full point of the article, although if it makes you feel better add that. it’s always hard to peg a “start” to a conflict. this author chose a time sequence that is defensible, but it doesn’t mean that one couldn’t choose an earlier time period as well.
        regardless, one can easily state that the setup in DC accelorated during the 1980’s and 1990’s and 2000’s as the author stated

        These were not men and women of good faith who got snookered by this or that political grouping. They were crooks building for themselves and their paymasters a kleptocratic state
        pretty broad brush, huh? again, this doesn’t matter to the point of the article, and it enhances the article. the problem, as was discussed in the previous article as well, is that your so-called Kleptocrats have much more CONTROL than they did 100 years ago. This allows them to weed out centrists and anybody else they don’t like, and neuter those who do make it in despite them. Thus, you see things like the major change in Rand Paul from candidate to congressman…

        you NEVER see a Paul Wellstone anymore. I wonder why that is??? now people speak about Obama as though he is a communist. shows just how centralized the control within congress and among the media has become.

        Clinton in political terms ran circles around Congressional Republicans. At the same time, it was Clinton who signed Gramm-Leach-Bliley that undid Glass-Steagall and the CFMA that deregulated derivatives, this last owing more to Larry Summers, Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, than to the Republicans per se

        this line of thinking falls EXACTLY along the thinking of the article. Again, you must not read well. It clearly discusses how BOTH parties have become beholden to moneyed interests, and thus they BOTH are going after their money bags while neglecting the populace. they do so somewhat differently,, but nowhere does it say that the Republicans are “better” at going after money than the Democrats.

        hence: Obama’s $1B war chest.

        please READ before POSTING.
        please UNDERSTAND before ARGUING.

        1. Sufferin' Succotash

          Read before posting?
          Understand before arguing?
          Surely you jest. This is America in the year 2011, which is like saying this is Spain in 1630 or Austria-Hungary in 1905. In other words, the falta de cabezas has become chronic and the situation is hopeless but not serious. What began 50-some years ago as a frivolous and intellectually half-baked rebellion by the overprivileged is now cooking our goose. The U.S. had a century or so to be great or something close to it, but now it’s time for the Silly Century.

          1. Carla

            The Silly Century? Oh, I sincerely doubt we’ll get a century out of it.

            Let’s say we’re 50 years into it now. Do you really think we’ll get another 5 decades to continue being so utterly idiotic? GAWD. Though I won’t be here to see it, it’s a hideous prospect.

      2. texas toaster

        From a literal factual point of view Yves is right here. However, I think Hugh and the earlier poster have a point (and this doesn’t contradict Ferguson in any way who takes till the end of his piece to give us “This is hardly government “doing what it has to do.” It may be what it is paid to do. But no one should confuse this with public policy that serves the interests of all Americans.”) that it’s really pointless to discuss D vs. R politics, and it certainly didn’t start with Newt Gingrich.

        Hugh is also right that Democrats have done more harm than Republicans to progressive interests. Republicans serve as a convenient bogeyman but it’s the Democrats who have been consistently stabbing progressives in the back for decades.
        However, the previous commenter who called D vs. R politics a false dichotomy is also right. All of this drama is there only to stab the American people in the back.

        The fundamental reality, is as Hugh states, kleptocracy. Always has been, always will be.

      3. Hugh

        Perhaps you might try re-reading Ferguson’s post or revisit the political history, especially as to how it fits into the 35 year timeframe we often use around here, and not the shorter ~18 year one Ferguson is using here.

        My point is that gridlock is a false issue. The Reagan Revolution took place with a Democratic controlled House. Clintoncare failed while Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House. Clinton was not stymied in his last 6 years, and contrary to Ferguson’s contention, by the Gingrich “Revolution” and his Contract with America. So just about everything that could be wrong with this piece is wrong with this piece. Democrats and Republicans throughout this period and in the longer 35 year period have been pursuing similar corporatist kleptocratic agendas regardless of who has been in the White House and which party controlled one or both Houses.

        Ferguson is stuck using a meaningless frame. It is not even original to him. But the conflicts between Democrats and Republicans are a kabuki sideshow. I am in no way defending Republicans here. I am simply applying the same analysis to both parties. I am profoundly tired of Establishment liberals waving the bloody shirt and blaming those crazy Republicans when Democrats are every bit as bad. That is what Ferguson doesn’t get. Nobody forced the Democrats to emulate the Republicans in their pay to play schemes. But more fundamentally whether they did or not would have made no difference in their policy choices. That too is a tired meme that seems to have hung around forever, that if only the Democrats had had the chance, they would have acted differently and more progressively than they, in fact, did. The Democrats have always acted exactly as they intended to act. Gridlock or its more recent incarnation “obstructionism” is an illusion. Both parties have been going in the same general direction for more than three decades. What they have produced in policy terms eliminating the rhetoric (rubespeak) has been remarkably the same. What we see is not gridlock or obstruction but an ongoing bipartisan corporatist/kleptocratic agenda.

        It is time to call these Upton Sinclair men like Ferguson on their selling us these same tired stories. The history of the last 35 years has not been Democrats versus Republicans but Democrats and Republicans versus us. If Ferguson can’t see the primary political dynamic of our times, he should find another line of work or just go away. I opt for just going away.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Honestly Hugh, your comments are normally high quality but you are really off base here.

          Ferguson wrote the post which highlights one aspect of a recent paper he did. Ferguson, as I have indicated, is an archivist and has done extensive, nitty gritty research of corporate donations going back to the 1930s (maybe even earlier, but his landmark book Golden Rule which was published in the mid 1990s, has an extensive discussion of campaign finance in the New Deal. Needless to say it reaches some conclusions I pretty much guarantee you are not aware of).

          Nothing you have said rebuts his point, which was that the Republicans, led by Gingrich, took an explicit strategy which considerably upped the ante as far as big money donors was concerned and it had a profound impact on US politics because the Dems copied it and thus it has become institutionalized.

          Your Carter argument is irrelevant to the point Ferguson makes. And accusing Ferguson of all people of having only an 18 year window, which in context you mean to imply he has not looked at earlier period, shows you don’t know the scholarship in this area.

          1. geezer

            I don’t think I can speak for Hugh, but as a geezer I lived through most of the relevant periods as many here have, and maybe can provide some perspective that numbers and political landmarks can’t.

            The way I see it, the politicians didn’t become more corrupt they just started demanding more money from their donors. I think the messaging to the donors was that they needed more advertisements, more diversions, and more brainwashing to keep us folks in line. Most money to politicians goes to attack ads and to funding for parties to develop divisive issues where there will never be an outcome like the abortion issue.

            Remember this was the period where the parties were dividing up the country by redrawing districts so that they could maintain a virtual lock on their districts. There was little chance of losing your seat. Even then, just to make sure voting machines were rigged in the past decade. Policies from both parties favored various rich people and their big businesses, and to distract the easily distractable who were paying the price, there needed to be more pageants, more glitz, more headquarters, more foot soldiers, more sloganeering, more embedded journalism, more PR….in short more of everything that makes the political machine run.

            The more the policies veered against the interests of the 99.9% of the people, the more there needed to be this level of funding. Since the multinational businesses and foreign governments were the beneficiaries they were naturally called on to provide the funding. Remember when Clinton took all that money from the Chinese?

            There was “campaign finance reform” which like all misnamed legislation caused even greater inflows of money.

            So if you see “gridlock” in Washington, that means they are thinking about helping the 99.9% of people. When something passes over the weekend with no debate like the bank bailouts that’s a result of total capture by both parties.

            –my 2 cents

          2. Cedric Regula

            I really don’t see that much inconsistency in Hugh’s view and Ferguson’s view, or if Ferguson would even disagree with Hugh.

            I think the root of all evil is campaign financing, and that taxpayers should fund a website for campaigns, TV networks should give 4 free debate nights, disallow campaign financing and the problem is solved. The other problem is the “revolving door”, but it’s harder to figure out what to do about that.

            So then we know the money backers, call them “special interests” (and we should include both the corporate types and the Big Libby types) oftentimes play the election game by funding both sides. Then we have a Pres, VP and 535 Congressmen. Each has his pet platform and backers, and Rs&Rs don’t agree on everything, nor do Ds&Ds.

            So everyone places their bets on a Schrodinger Election.

            We then get Hugh’s Kleptocracy. The only way “gridlock” is ever broken is when they all start “horsetrading”, “reaching across the isle”, “compromising”, etc…to get what they want for each of their narrow constituencies. At this point they loosely close ranks and may appear to converge on a party line. Smorgasbord bills get passed, watered down bills get passed, midnight post vote earmarks get passed.

            It’s just lots of things not really in the “public good”.

            But I heard it kind of went that way ever since 1776 or 79 (I always forget which) and even Mark Twain used to complain about it much later. So that’s why we have a debt cap. So now we will see if they trade away Social Security to get a cap increase and maintain the Bush tax cuts ad infinitem. The Rs will blame Obama for gutting SS next year.

          3. Hugh

            I am saying that funding changes in the 1990s were irrelevant. They make for a great story, but they are a distraction. In terms of policy, the two parties were locked into their current trajectories back in the 1980s. Gingrich’s hyper-partisanship was great theater but really didn’t differ materially from Reagan’s partisanship. He was a good showman but a poor organizer. It was Tom Delay who mastered pay to play. Even under Gingrich, K Street hedged their bets by putting money down on both parties. It was Delay who extended pay to play to pay only Republicans to play, that is punishing those lobbyists who were putting some of their money on Democrats.

            But the Republicans didn’t turn Bill Clinton into a neoliberal. He was one before he came to Washington. The loss of both Houses actually facilitated his neoliberal agenda by giving it cover. Clinton did create a lot of jobs. He was the last President who thought it necessary to materially placate the rubes. But he also laid the foundations for the bubbles that Bush promoted into the bubble burst in 2007 and the 2008 crash.

            But again by the time of the Gingrich Revolution, both parties were on a corporatist track. Money juiced the atmospherics of the political process but policy-wise it had little effect. That fight had already been won.

          4. Yves Smith Post author

            From Ferguson to Hugh via e-mail:

            Your person stretches a truth into falsehood.

            Even my short little piece was clear that the Congressional revolution was a follow on to the developments of the 80s, which took place mostly at the Presidential level. That is even clearer in the INET piece that I referenced at the end, where the process is traced back to Nixon and the relation to Reaganism spelled out. The late seventies and eighties did firmly, as he or she suggests, align the parties on a corporatist track, with the reaction by the Dems being key (since if they had gone a different route, there would have been a option for ordinary people). That was what my Right Turn, which is plainly referenced in the piece, is all about. It goes on forever on this theme, with vast documentation.

            But having said that money flows start in the 80s does not mean that nineties developments were irrelevant. Who thinks a flower in full bloom is the same as the earlier stages? The takeover of the Congress by the GOP happened in the 90s, not the 80s and was a major change in political patterns. All kinds of things flow from it; but never mind. Let’s just look at some indices of the leap from quantity to quality, as Hegel used to say.

            Look at the graphs I attach from the INET paper. You can see how the Senate just goes up and up in partisanship. The House partisanship is a touch messed up by the sharp reaction to the fall of Gingrich (which sent partisanship briefly back down) and the 2008 end point (because that’s where the stats end in the source I cite). If you used a moving average, you’d see the underlying trend more sharply. There’s no reason to write off the higher levels; they reflect institutional reality.

            A fortiori, look at the cash flows (which show only presidential years for a while; you can safely assume congressional year overall totals run half or less of the presidential totals). Quantitative changes of this sort are qualitative changes.

            And the Gingrich pay to play system, copied by the Dems, has no 20th century precedent in Congress; while the whole shift to posted prices (unheralded in this short piece, because that’s the next one I write) for leaders and committees has no precedent, even in the Gilded Age.

    2. Chester Genghis

      Democrats are complicit, to be sure. And they’ve made a cowardly, “me too” choice (one of many), as Ferguson and Yves point out, to follow suit.

      But your blame is misplaced because it all started –and is currently sustained– with a well-funded, long-term media campaign (that I would argue began in the early 70’s) to frame all public issues in a simplistic, partisan, very conservative manner.

  4. Cedric Regula

    “…we should probably have expected a grateful “Invisible Hand” would drop by to wave goodbye…..”

    “At the very end, Baker cautiously put forward a suggestion first broached by Peter Orzag, formerly President Obama’s budget chief before he fled to Citigroup, that the Hand might, like so many other aging Americans, benefit from a prosthesis: legislation that would remorselessly chop government programs unless Congress acted to stop it.”

    I get it. I’m old enough to remember Thing on the Addams Family. Thing always wore a white glove, and come to think of it, that may be because Thing was invisable. Like the Invisable Man, except missing the rest of the body. So Thing probably is the Invisable Hand!

    So they seem to be saying that Thing wasn’t really goal oriented all these years and Thing sort of lost his/her/its(not to be confused with Cousin It) way.

    Makes sense.

    So Thing needs an Axe and be taught how to use it?

    I see.

    Works well with gridlock to, I imagine?

  5. NOTaREALmerican

    Politics is about allocating limited resources peacefully.

    Our infinite-debt based economy has allowed Americans of both political teams to be able to ignore the REAL purpose of government and concentrate instead in meddling in other peoples lives. This – as any in-law can tell you – is GREAT fun.

    Now, however, limits are apparent and people have long forgotten – over generations – the REAL purpose of government. Time to learn again. When enough peasants are pissed off enough something will change.

    1. Ivan Karamazov

      “the REAL purpose of government”

      So what was that again? You fail to indicate.

  6. the root of the problem is the culture wars

    the root of the problem is the culture wars. When compromise is made impossible because two sides hold irreconcible positions on issues such as abortion or gay rights, you wide up with two sets of Americas–each region dominated by one-party rule.

    Irrespective of party whether it’s Chicago/Democratic Machine one-party rule or Long Island Republican one-party rule, one-party rule breeds corruption, graft and the beholdenment to moneyed interests.

    As long as secular liberals/minorites keep voting D and the religious right keep voting R, each political party will exploit its base for the benefit of the party elite.

  7. Reverend Lee

    One counterpoint to an otherwise fine piece by Tom Ferguson. It wouldn’t alter the substance of his argument, but it is relevant to others that concern the “free market.” There is no such thing as market fundamentalism. There is a market faith, but it is a different kind of religion.

  8. gs_runsthiscountry

    Ferguson hits the nail on the head once again.

    And, this is why all eyes keep turning back to Bernanke and the Fed, as neither party is going to take on any real fiscal decisions that are in the meaningful best interest of this country. Is it any wonder the Fed chairmen is now sitting in front of the media for quasi- question and answer sessions. Evidently, we must feed the beast with more power, in order to preserve congressional seats. Why take a stand and risk being ousted, when your constituency gives you a free pass, and let in pass the ball to Bernanke.

    Whether any readers here love, or hate, agree, or disagree with the fed, one thing is clear; Bernanke has thrown the ball back to congress as many as 3 times publicly in the last 18 months, and still nothing.

    Personally, I am now so frustrated, I am back to quoting a friend that passed some 15 years ago. His favorite phrase was “Do SOMETHING, even if it is WRONG.” As an aside, he was a dead ringer for George Carlin, just as cynical, and just as funny. The unfortunate part is, nothing that is happening today is even remotely amusing.

  9. Schofield

    Perhaps the American Constitution should be seen more realistically these days as “All the corruption money can buy.” Cultural perception does eventually move with time even in conservative nations that all those years ago saw little wrong with George Washington buying his votes with free beer.

  10. jwbeene

    Thou like Ferguson, Huge, geezer came closest to the real truth.

    Here is the best answer from someone nearly 100 years ago.

    ’ Sir Josiah Stamp, president of the Bank of England and the second richest man in Britain in the 1920s, spoke at the University of Texas in 1927 and revealed:

    “Banking was conceived in iniquity and was born in sin. The bankers own the earth. Take it away from them, but leave them the power to create money, and with the flick of the pen they will create enough deposits to buy it back again. However, take it away from them, and all the great fortunes like mine will disappear and they ought to disappear, for this would be a happier and better world to live in. But, if you wish to remain the slaves of bankers and pay the cost of your own slavery, let them continue to create money.”
    Sir Josiah Stamp

    To add to this ask who has lead the policies decision of both parties since Carter; and it’s not an elected official, but has had a contract with the government since 1913?

  11. Kelly

    “In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. ” Ben Franklin Sept. 17, 1787

  12. Jack Straw

    Whatever else it may have been, the 1994 Republican win shows at least a model of what it takes to “change” an institution like Congress, with all its back-story.

    As to “where are the Wellstones?” – there’s no shortage of second-rate “passionate” academics (See Gingrich, Speaker). You just may not like what they’re passionate about.

    As a former con, who still belongs to a conservative club, I do still believe that “change” is almost always bad. Almost always. My fellows simply say “change is bad.” Not always. Often, maybe frequently, and almost always, but not always. The horseshoe crab is frequently mentioned as a worthy model, “having not evolved a bit in 600 million years.” I have never seen one that wasn’t grossly rotten and disgusting, whatever.

    The real question Professor Ferguson raises is whether change is possible without plutocratic support. I dunno, but not that optimistic on that, maybe like the President.

    1. Just Tired

      As demonstrated by our latest iteration of a Supreme Court, corporations are moving more and more towards “person-hood”. At the same time, it apparently is not so obvious that our “service economy” is moving more and more towards “corporate-hood” People, Inc., at your service. The point is that arguing about Republicans and Democrats today is like arguing about an entertainer that chose to sing as opposed to dance; an athlete that chose football over baseball; a defense lawyer as opposed to a prosecutor. Those who comment here have an idea of service to country that is really quaint. It also went out with spinner hubcaps. As politicians evolve more and more to resemble the World’s Oldest Profession, we need to admit that we already know what they are, we’re now just haggling about the price. The trick is to protect ourselves from any communicable disease they might transmit.

  13. Kelly

    More from Franklin, the wisest of the founders. Describing the problems of British parliament in 1783, sounds like US in 2011.

    Franklin writing to Bishop Shipley March 17, 1783.

    America will, with God’s Blessing, become a great and happy country; and England, if she has at length gained wisdom, will have gained something more valuable, and more essential to her prosperity, than all she has lost; and will still be a great and respectable nation. Her great disease at present is the numerous and enormous salaries and emoluments of office. Avarice and ambition are strong passions and, separately, act with great force on the human mind; but when both are united, and may be gratified in the same object, their violence is almost irresistible and the hurry men headlong into factions and contentions destructive of all good government. As long, therefore, as these great emoluments subsist, your Parliament will be a stormy sea, and your public councils confounded by private interests. But it required much public spirit and virtue to abolish them; more than perhaps can now be found in a nation so long corrupted.

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