A Radical Notion? Gridlock Makes For Good Government

“You say we [reporters] are distracting from the business of government. Well, I hope so. Distracting a politician from governing is like distracting a bear from eating your baby.” — P. J. O’Rourke

Over at the New York Times, they’re bemoaning the polarization of Congress:

Much to the distress of more rebellious Republicans, House Republicans who had never tasted life in power tended to try to cooperate with Democrats as their best chance of getting things done. It was not uncommon for top Democrats and Republicans to have close and cordial relationships.

But former Speaker Newt Gingrich and his allies showed that drawing the sharpest possible contrasts with the opposition could pay political dividends as they gained control of the House, and the see-saw fight for the Congressional upper hand began.

At the same time, a political toll was being taken on the centrist Democrats and Republicans who were most prone to compromise. Many left Congress or were defeated.

Sherwood Boehlert, a centrist Republican from New York, left the House in 2006. He said the partisanship had become too pervasive and made it all but impossible to reach across party lines, as he tried to do on issues like automotive mileage standards.

“Now if a Republican is seen working on something with a Democrat, you are seen as a heretic,” said Mr. Boehlert, who tries to create consensus approaches at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Democrats drew their own stark lines in 2003 when Republicans and the Bush administration coalesced around adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare, an expansion Democrats had sought for years. The plan, which Democrats criticized for its generous subsidies to health insurers, was endorsed by AARP, but House Democrats sought to keep their members from voting for it, though 16 did in the end.

My first thought while reading this was that it was hilarious that the New York Times is now admitting that Democrats were stalling the Bush agenda for partisan reasons — now that Bush is out of office and it might benefit Democrats.

Setting that aside, let me say something that may seem radical: Congress has become so incompetent, so corrupt, and so broken, that we’re better off as a nation when they can’t get anything done.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do better — there are a zillion of them. Moreover, although there isn’t a single law passed in the last year that I think helps make the country a better place, this isn’t just an Obama thing. If, as a nation, we could simply go back and wipe every new law off the books for the last 10 years, on the whole, we would be better off as a country.

Does that mean we NEVER pass any laws that make things better? No. But, they’re such a minority of the laws we pass, they’re so small in scope compared to the negative laws that go through, and government has gotten so large and so out-of-control already, that the odds are that the more Congress does, the worse things will get.

Until Congress can get to a place where it can first “do no harm to the country,” I’d be perfectly okay with having Congress just take old laws off of the books. If we did nothing but that for 5-10 years, I have no doubt that the country would benefit immensely from it.

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