Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Deja Vu

Jonah Goldberg in February.

Newsweek today.

I wonder if Steve Hayward is having flashbacks.  What whiny, prolix nonsense. If the Democrats had won ten seats in the House and two in the Senate, no way does this article see the light of day.  The funny part is that Stone think he is explaining away Obama's problems by ascribing them to institutional problems beyond the President's control, but all Stone is really doing is taking Obama's measurements for a Jimmy Carter Halloween costume.

h/t The Corner

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 12 Comments

I agree. The presidency is too big; therefore we should reduce the size and scope of government to fit the abilities of one man and I say let's allow this man to be the measure of that. Let's make the federal government small enough for a man like Barack Obama to be able to manage without strain. Let's make that argument to the Left for the next two years.

What the author does not say is that a White House Staff with a headcount of 469 is smaller than that which prevailed during the Nixon and Carter Administrations.

The author also does not sort through the sources of the President's problems: some are derived from Constitutional architecture, some from the culture of Congress, some from customary practices of the Presidency, and some from the President's own inability to set priorities and the inability of Congress to set priorities and accept a clear division of labor between the central government and state and local government.

Things the President can do on his own initiative would be to stop the globe trotting (IIRC, Harry Truman, in spite of superintending diplomatic initiatives as consequential as any in the history of the post-Revolutionary period, only took a handful of trips abroad) and limit his public speeches and appearances (bar perhaps brief weekly radio addresses a la Reagan) to what might conceivably be helpful to induce people to write Congress in favor of legislative initiatives. He does not need foreign heads of state in and out every week either with all the protocol that requires; he has a telephone on his desk, no? His press agents might also take a leaf from British and Israeli practice and stop broadcasting his various movements beforehand so there is not a clanking security apparatus wherever he goes.

The advent of a Republican Congress and the Republican practice of rotating committee chairmanships gives him an opportunity as you do not have pashas like John Dingell and Bwaney Fwank defending turf they have held for decades. He can ask Congress to erect new departments and shift agencies around with less in the way of finicky controversies about jurisdictional questions in our rancid federal legislature. One thing that one might consider: consolidating all federal executive agencies into about two dozen or so departments and then have appointive vice presidents supervise most of them. You could limit the President's direct reports to fewer than ten: his chief of staff, the vp's, the secretaries of the departments housing the priority initiatives, and the secretary in charge of budget and treasury.

Kate is right. There is gobs of activity which could be readily devolved to the states and localities and some which could readily be conceded to private initiative. The Republicans appear at all times beset by inertia and the Democratic Party is filled with folk like Charles Schumer who have to put their hands on everything they see.

"If the Democrats had won ten seats in the House and two in the Senate, no way does this article see the light of day."

Maybe, Maybe not. Newsweek is an independent publication, and not a state actor.

In addition you are just compounding the problem by shifting the problems of the legistlature upon the presidency.

The election was about the house and the senate, that is the legislative branch.

Certainly the "significance" of the election has been sold as having a nexus to the presidency and Obama.

Jimmy Carter costume or not, the executive branch is still more popular than the legistlative branch.

The executive branch of the United States won the Nobel Peace prize, and its representative Obama accepted it. What exactly the executive branch of the United States has to do with world peace is unclear, but it is commonly accepted that it has something to do with it, and it is accepted that Obama holds the reigns, making him both the recipient of undeserved praise, and generally the whipping boy for unmerited criticism.

What is unclear is exactly what role Goldberg or Stone play, or the extent to which the media is also a state actor.

Since blaming Bush and hope and change are not working, one must shift gears and find another thing, person, object, etc to blame. So this makes sense - blame the office. Obama is an ideologue. Ideologues don't deal in reality - they deal in "Listen to me - do as I say (of course not as I do) and the world will be just fine. However, the seas just aren't parting like he claimed they would. Obama is headed for mental breakdown - all the signs are there. First he was up up and away in my beautiful ballon, then he became very, very angry. He is now in a full blown depression. The next step - well it ain't pretty. Complete breakdown. He will not make it to the end of his term without it......

The presidency is not too big a job for one man. It appears to be too big a job for the man who currently holds the office.

The man is sorely lacking in experience and manifested administrative talent, but there are serious problems which abide independent of who holds the job. Again, the last time this discourse appeared was around 1979. Jimmy Carter was not Obama. He was not a neophyte in the realm of public administration and had performed satisfactorily in three disparate lines of work.

AD, what happened to that discourse in 1980?

It didn't go away. Nothing is ever resolved in American politics. Reagan had the same average popularity as Carter(same as Obama) at the 2 year mark. See

What somehow changed with Reagan was that Congress got more popular.(moved up to 38%) (but the Gallup data is bad on the metric during the Reagan years).

Also under Clinton Congress got more popular. (moved back up to 38%) Stayed at that level during Bush.

But congress generically is incredibly unpopular, and more unpopular than the presidency.

I agree with AD on the serious problems of the executive branch.

On the other hand, Congressional Approval is so low that something must be wrong.

If the Democrats had won ten seats in the House and two in the Senate, no way does this article see the light of day:

Because if Democrats get to +2 in the Senate that means Rand Paul was not elected.

Note that Rand Paul would still have been right about federal pay even if not elected.

Stone might also be right, even if things had turned out differently for Democrats...and there is no debating that the powers that be feed some pretty outlandish praise and blame upon whoever sits in the executive office.

It was more muted after Jimmy Carter left office. His counsel Lloyd Cutler was for years thereafter a promoter of parliamentary government for the United States. His chief speechwriter (Hendrik Hertzberg) had more inchoate ideas but did point out that Ronald Reagan was not particularly accomplished in the realm of policy changes which would have required the assent of Congress. David Stockman made the same point.

Carter had an obsessive-compulsive aspect which had a double-edge. On the one hand, he actually took an interest in administrative organization and the terms of employment and recruitment of the civil service. He also took an interest in innovative means of public budgeting (as did John Kennedy and RIchard Nixon). None of his successors took an interest in these things. The regrettable aspect of his interest in detail was difficulty in delegating authority and setting priorities.

The Reagan Administration was (by all appearances) quite assiduous about vetting its discretionary appointees. Reagan did not feel the need to have his hands on everything and was content to delegate and having like-minded personnel several layers down allowed this. Compare press accounts of how prospective nominees to the Supreme Court were examined ca. 1987 with John Dean's account of how the Nixon Administration proceeded ca. 1971 and you can see two different processes for getting people into place. The White House Staff 'grew like topsy' (H.R. Haldeman's expression) in order to keep tabs on the departments and agencies. This was a function of being unable to trust the people they had appointed because they used 'professional' criteria and conventional patronage pipelines to fill these positions.

Goldberg / Palin in 2012 !!!

Thanks, but no thanks.

I admire Goldberg. I think Palin has been unfairly tarred by the media. But neither motivates me to have them for the ticket in 2012.

The Presidency is not too large for one person. One person is precisely what an executive position is all about. We do not need a Presidency-by-committee. We need a single person who has the balls to make the tough decision, and take the consequences of that decision.

We have neither in the current president.

And no, I'm not up to the challenge. I am lacking both as well.

He is the most unqualified president in our lifetimes. Without question.

From 1828 to the present, I think you could only locate three other occasions where the Democratic Party nominated someone whose preparation was somewhere in the range of the deficiency the current incumbent suffers. With regard to the Republicans, you could make a case with regard to two or three of their nominees, no more.

That having been said, the guy has dozens of reports rather than the half-dozen or so he might have were he presiding over an ordinary commercial corporation or foundation. He also is addled by the convention that he be moving around and running his mouth all the time. In addition, he has our rancid national legislature with which to cope. There are structural and cultural problems which trancend his deficiencies.

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