A Warning From 1792

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From Alexander Hamilton to George Washington in 1792:

The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security.

Those then, who resist a confirmation of public order, are the true Artificers of monarchy—not that this is the intention of the generality of them. Yet it would not be difficult to lay the finger upon some of their party who may justly be suspected. When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”

This warning might be more relevant today than ever before.


The Grand Opposition Party

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Perhaps the most telling tidbit from last week’s decision to pull the American Healthcare Act of 2017 from the House floor was this comment from Speaker Paul Ryan:

We were a 10-year opposition party where being against things was easy to do,” a clearly disappointed Ryan said Friday. “And now, in three months’ time, we’ve tried to go to a governing party, where we have to actually get … people to agree with each other in how we do things.

As a party, Republicans had ten years to develop a real alternative to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare/ACA). Years later, all they could come up with was a patchwork quilt of tweaks to the ACA that reduced coverage and did nothing to change the trajectory of costs or premiums.

No wonder nobody wanted to vote for it.

With control of both houses of Congress, Republicans could have passed a law that moved healthcare in this country forward. Instead they chose opposition politics and tried to score political points with a symbolic “repeal and replace” of the ACA.

Instead of remaining the opposition party, the Republicans could have become the “healthcare party” and unveiled a plan to get us out of the awkward middle ground that the ACA put us in.

Sadly that’s not going to happen. Here’s the President’s reaction:

“The good news is they (the Democrats) now own health care. They now own Obamacare.”


“The best thing that can happen is that we let the Democrats, that we let Obamacare continue, they’ll have increases from 50 to 100 percent,” he said. “And when it explodes, they’ll come to me to make a deal. And I’m open to that.”

What I think he means by “best” is the best thing politically for himself. A truly “best” outcome would have been an actual plan to fix healthcare. Instead we see the President pushing legislative failure onto the minority party so that Republicans can still play the opposition game instead of governing.

This said by Republican Kevin Cramer of North Dakota:

We have to do some soul-searching internally to determine whether or not we are even capable of functioning as a governing body,” […] “If ‘no’ is your goal, it’s the easiest goal in the world to reach.”


Do we have the right people?

When building a business you constantly ask yourself if you have the right people in place to accomplish the goal. Do we need to hire someone who can build this piece of the product or business, etc.

However, when it comes to government, we don’t ask the same critical questions.

Why? I believe it’s  because the two parties can’t articulate what it is that they stand for beyond opposing the other party.  Yes they both have written platforms but those read like a patchwork-quilt of aspirational ideas and  skirt the hard changes that need to be made (voting reform, single payer healthcare, etc.). It’s hard to find a coherent vision for the county inside either of these parties.

If you don’t know where you want to go, it’s next to impossible to elect the right people to lead you there.

Last week’s fiasco with healthcare was another missed opportunity and a giant waste of our country’s time, money and resources. We pay (in more ways than one) when politicians play these political games. It’s past time to start electing people that know how to build and fix broken systems like healthcare, job displacement, and education.

Sadly, we aren’t going to see many builder and fixer candidates because they don’t have a party that they can relate to…. yet.



Polar Opposites In Congress

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This wonderful visualization from a 2015 study on the of rise of partisanship in the U.S. House of Representatives is a wonderful reminder that once upon a time Congress did in fact function without gridlock.

The study’s authors created a series of linked graphs that demonstrate how members of Congress voted together (or not). See that whitespace between the blue and red clusters in recent years?

That’s where we need a new centrist party.


The Party’s Over

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I’ve been feeling it for a while now —  Republicans and Democrats are locked into a viscous cycle of obstructionism and the defacto two party system is failing us when it comes to creating progressive political outcomes.


What we’ve got here is the failure to communicate…

The politics of obstructionism has a long political history in this country but we can look to the “Gingrich Revolution” during the Clinton presidency to see its modern roots.  As Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich pretty much started the escalation of obstruction that we are stuck with today. For example, it was during his time in power that shutting down the government became a viable political tool.

Fast forward to the Obama years and we saw obstruction taken to a whole other level with the rise of the Tea Party and a Republican platform centered around being against anything proposed by the Obama administration. If it sounds like I’m picking on the Republicans, I’m not. The Democrats, having just lost the Presidency, are now actively defining themselves as the “Party of No”. Taking a page out of the obstructionism textbook is a whole lot easier than actually standing for something. Newt would be proud.


The Big Loser…

So who wins and who loses in the politics of obstructionism? Politically speaking both parties win.

The obstructors halt progress and generally make things so bad that they have a reform story to campaign on in the next election. Not wanting to waste their time in power, the “obstructees” expand whatever powers they have and then campaign on having their hands tied by the other party. Recent Presidents have been masters at this.

However, the big loser is the American people. While both parties play the game, very little happens to move the country forward. In fact, a disproportionate amount of time is spent trying un-do the acts of the prior President or Congress. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, our country’s infrastructure ages, the healthcare crisis deepens, and the American dream slips further out of sight in our collective rearview mirror.


Return to Compromise…

The “all or nothing” politics of obstruction are not what the framers of our Constitution had in mind. I’ll go as far as to say that it has introduced a “bug” into our system that has lead to a vicious loop — which continues to consume our precious time and resources with each iteration.

To break the loop we need to break the two party system. As long as there is no viable third party to choose, we will keep rewarding the politics of obstruction by re-electing politicians who perpetuate the cycle. However, with a viable third party in the mix, Republicans and Democrats would both be forced to return to compromise as the framers intended because obstruction by the numbers in Congress would no longer be possible (more on this soon in another post).

With the obstruction cycle broken, Candidates of all parties would have to stand for something instead of simply against the other party. Imagine that.