Such nonsense

The first-year agenda of a promising young president has gone down in flames.

obama pointing 311 (photo credit: AP)
obama pointing 311
(photo credit: AP)
In the latter days of the Carter presidency, it became fashionable tosay that the office had become unmanageable and was simply too big forone man. Some suggested a single, six-year presidential term.
The president's own White House counsel suggested abolishing theseparation of powers and going to a more parliamentary system ofunitary executive control. America had become ungovernable.
Then came Ronald Reagan, and all that chatter disappeared.
The tyranny of entitlements? Reagan collaborated with Tip O'Neill, thelegendary Democratic House speaker, to establish the Alan Greenspancommission that kept Social Security solvent for a quarter-century.
A corrupted system of taxation? Reagan worked with liberal DemocratBill Bradley to craft a legislative miracle: tax reform that eliminateddozens of loopholes and slashed rates across the board - and fueled twodecades of economic growth.
Later, a highly skilled Democratic president, Bill Clinton,successfully tackled another supposedly intractable problem: theculture of intergenerational dependency. He collaborated with anotherHouse speaker, Newt Gingrich, to produce the single most successfulsocial reform of our time, the abolition of welfare as an entitlement.
It turned out that the country's problems were not problems ofstructure but of leadership. Reagan and Clinton had it. Carter didn't.
Under a president with extensive executive experience, good politicalskills and an ideological compass in tune with the public, the countrywas indeed governable.
IT'S 2010 and the first-year agenda of a popular and promising youngpresident has gone down in flames. Barack Obama's two signatureinitiatives - cap-and-trade and health care reform - lie in ruins.
Desperate to explain away this scandalous state of affairs, liberalapologists haul out the old reliable from the Carter years: "Americathe Ungovernable." So declared Newsweek. "Is America Ungovernable?" coyly asked The New Republic. Guess the answer.
The rage at the machine has produced the usual litany of systemicexplanations. Special interests are too powerful. The Senate filibusterstymies social progress. A burdensome constitutional order preventsinnovation. If only we could be more like China, pines Tom Friedman,waxing poetic about the efficiency of the Chinese authoritarian model,while America flails about under its "two parties ... with theirduel-to-the-death paralysis."
The better thinkers, bewildered and furious that their president hasnot gotten his way, have developed a sudden disdain for our inherentlyincremental constitutional system.
Yet, what's new about any of these supposedly ruinous structuralimpediments? Special interests blocking policy changes? They have beenaround since the beginning of the republic - and since the beginning ofthe republic, strong presidents, like the two Roosevelts, have ralliedthe citizenry and overcome them.
And then, of course, there's the filibuster, the newest liberal bete noire."Don't blame Mr. Obama," writes Paul Krugman of the president'sfailures. "Blame our political culture instead. ... And blame thefilibuster, under which 41 senators can make the country ungovernable."
Ungovernable, once again. Of course, just yesterday the same PaulKrugman was warning about "extremists" trying "to eliminate thefilibuster" when Democrats used it systematically to block one Bush(43) judicial nomination after another. Back then, Democrats touted itas an indispensable check on overweening majority power. Well, it stillis.
Indeed, the Senate with its ponderous procedures and decentralizedstructure is serving precisely the function the Founders intended: as abrake on the passions of the House and a caution about precipitoustransformative change.
LEAVE IT to Mickey Kaus, a principled liberal who supports health carereform, to debunk these structural excuses: "Lots of intellectualeffort now seems to be going into explaining Obama's(possible/likely/impending) health care failure as the inevitableproduct of larger historic and constitutional forces. ... But in thiscase there's a simpler explanation: Barack Obama's job was to sell ahealth care reform plan to American voters. He failed."
He failed because the utter implausibility of its central promise -expanded coverage at lower cost - led voters to conclude that it wouldlead ultimately to more government, more taxes and more debt. Morebroadly, the Democrats failed because, thinking the economic emergencywould give them the political mandate and legislative window, theytried to impose a left-wing agenda on a center-right country. Thepeople said no, expressing themselves first in spontaneousdemonstrations, then in public opinion polls, then in elections -Virginia, New Jersey and, most emphatically, Massachusetts.
That's not a structural defect. That's a textbook demonstration ofpopular will expressing itself - despite the special interests -through the existing structures. In other words, the system worked.
Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post.