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Am I a Radical?

To make a related point to the previous post, I'm not sure I'd term calls for procedural reform "radical," much less "revolutionary." The history of Congress is, in part, a history of procedural reforms. Newt Gingrich made a bunch of changes in 1994. Democrats made a bunch of changes in 1975. John F. Kennedy made some big changes in the early 1960s. FDR changed the way Congress worked, and so too did Woodrow Wilson. This isn't something invented by a bunch of bloggers in the early 21st century.

There's nothing abnormal about changing the rules of a governing body in response to changes in the country. It's pretty common, for instance, for political scientists to remark on the incredible rise in party polarization in recent decades. According to Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthale, political polarization is at its highest point since Reconstruction:


Previously, we handled that problem by enduring a Great Depression and letting FDR and the Democrats take over the country for awhile. That worked to loosen the levers of Congress a bit. And I guess we can wait until a fiscal crisis does something similar for one party or the other. Call that "the Californian strategy."

But we could also agree that this level of polarization makes it virtually impossible to govern in a system that is designed to foil majorities and require a constant three-fifths consensus. It's not good if the country is virtually impossible to govern. Problems don't stop mounting while we try and figure things out. We could respond to this by making it easier for the majority party to govern and thus less likely that we have some sort of massive crisis that totally realigns our politics. I think that's actually less radical than waiting for some calamity to reshape our political system.

As for specific reforms I'd advocate, there's nothing on this list that I disagree with.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 31, 2009; 5:36 PM ET
Categories:  Congress  
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Or we could reconsider the proper role of Government.

Your main problem is that you want the Government to do things that it wasn't intedned to do like run a health insurance monopoly.

Posted by: fallsmeadjc | July 31, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Thought I'd mention that the filibuster was an accident, not what the founders intended. It was created in 1806 by an oversight made during the "first re-codification of the Standing Rules of the Senate."

A history of the filibuster and changing of Senate rules can be found here:

Posted by: bcbulger | August 1, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

You didn't mention the extraordinary correlation between House polarization and the GINI Index at that link.

If economic polarization is the cause of political polarization, all we have to do is elect more real Democrats (not Blue Dogs or Baucus types) who will increase taxes on the wealthy and jobs and services for the lower/middle classes, and political polarization will drop dramatically.

Posted by: bonyfingers | August 1, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I agree with a central figure in the Democratic Party who offered the thought that "I own I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive."

I also recall the same figure writing that "Our post-revolutionary youth are born under happier stars than you and I were. They acquire all learning in their mothers' womb, and bring it into the world ready-made. The information of books is no longer necessary; and all knowledge which is not innate, is in contempt, or neglect at least. Every folly must run it's round; and so, I suppose, must that of self-learning, and self sufficiency; of rejecting the knowledge acquired in past ages, and starting on the new ground of intuition."

Finally, I recall that self-proclaimed "progressives" brought us eugenics laws in an effort to save people from themselves and that today "progressives" cite these very eugenics laws as folly.

Often, individuals are perfectly capable of saving themselves... or at least to fight -- to become revolutionaries -- for what they actually believe, leaving less meaningful topics for those who govern.

My answer to your question is therefore "no, you are neither a radical nor a revolutionary."

Posted by: rmgregory | August 2, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse


When Congress ends up in Republican hands sometime in the future and wants to pass laws and confirm conservative judges will you still be advocating the above? Or will the protections the minority parties have suddenly be considered vital?

Posted by: Drumfire | August 2, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I think it's misreading that graph to say that "letting Democrats and FDR control things for a while" caused political depolarization. By the time FDR was elected, Congressional polarization had nearly bottomed out. It took a long time for it to rise back up, but the biggest changes were between 1920 and 1930, well before FDR was elected.

My naive interpretation of history is that what caused the parties to move closer together is that the progressives and populists in the Progressive Era never quite settled on a party to move into. The Republicans had their Teddy Roosevelts and Robert LaFolletes, and Democrats had their William Jennings Bryants and Woodrow Wilsons. With the New Deal, the Democrats started to firm up their position of being to the left of the Republicans, but there were still plenty of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and whole Southern Democrat thing helped keep things mixed up until the Civil Rights Era.

Posted by: usergoogol | August 2, 2009 9:36 PM | Report abuse

Looking at Wikipedia’s state population chart, a bill desired by senators representing states accounting for almost 90% of the population can be defeated by senators representing only about 10% of the population using the filibuster, and the fact that Wyoming gets the same votes in the Senate as California, even though it has only about 1.5% of the people. People in Wyoming get about 70 votes to just 1 for people in California. So much for one person, one vote. That’s Democratic and something to keep.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | August 3, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

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