Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Politics of Failure, Part II

A discussion with a student about the last blog posting. His response is first, followed by two of mine, written at slightly different times.

On Tue, Apr 3, 2012 at 3:58 PM:
Dear Professor Schultz,
I hope that this e-mail finds you doing well.  I am writing this afternoon with question about your 3 April blog post: If The Path To Prosperity Budget is intended to fail, then how you do you explain Democratic Senator Wyden working with Republican House of Representative Ryan?  (Senator Wyden provides his reasons in the following piece: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sen-ron-wyden/congress-medicare_b_1365237.html?view=print&comm_ref=false). 

And will Senator Wyden's work with Ryan rescue the plan? Will anything rescue the budget proposed by Ryan? If not, then my question recurs: Why would a politician who is allegedly interested in results, that is, in proposing legislation that stands a chance of becoming law, why would such a politician propose what is so obviously a loser? 

I mean if you want to argue that politicians qua legislators are just posturers, those who do symbolic things [as George Carlin use to say, which appeal to the "symbol minded"], then you may do so. But I thought politicians are or should be interested in results, even if the result s are incremental. And I thought politicians who are legislators who would want to make laws, not just strike poses they take to be pleasing. Making laws requires passing laws. Passing laws requires compromise and negotiations, always and forever. 

My answers to my question may not be correct, but I am sure the question is correct, viz., that Ryan's behavior requires an explanation and, I think,  a better explanation than those commonly provided, such as, well, he is playing to his base or he is preparing for the future. And it is a quite simple question: How does Ryan benefit from proposing legislation that he knows will fail? 

A further thought, perhaps, on your question: If Senator Wyden works with Ryan on his budget proposal and it fails - as I argue is Ryan's intention - then does that make the argument that "extreme" measures necessarily fail stronger or weaker? It seems to me that it makes that argument stronger: "Hey, look, even with the help of a senator, and a senator of the other party, my budget failed. What lesson should we draw from this failure? That any extreme measures, such as those favored by Tea Party types or by Ron Paul types, are bound to fail. The only 'realistic' option is to perpetuate the status quo and those who would upset the status quo cannot be trusted with power."

The goal is to isolate and undermine anyone who would change the status quo and, thereby, undermine those, like Ryan and Wyden, who support the status quo.

Another "thought": Obama's criticism of the Ryan budget, which criticism is labeled by the NY Times as particularly harsh, does not get in the way of Ryan's purpose. In fact, it helps advance that purpose insofar as it underscores the arguments that (a) the Ryan budget is radical and that (b) radical measures are to be rejected and will be rejected as irresponsible. Of course, "radical" here encompasses any changes that undermine the status quo. Thus, without even having to plan it, Obama and Ryan are colluding to maintain the status quo. In this project, they are, as it were, allies.

More and more, I think the goal of both the regular Republicans and Democrats is to preserve the status quo and, therewith, their power. This is why it not only seems like "nothing ever changes" but also why real change seems almost impossible. We are told that our problems are "intractable" and politicians are relatively powerless to affect real change. And, of course, we need to trust those who know these things, not those who would propose "radical" change. ["Time to coalesce around Romney now, boys, as Santorum threatens to do "radical" things. We have already taken care of Ron Paul."]

Finally, why should this line of argument seem so surprising? After all, as we know that politicians love power, pursue power, and will do quite a bit to preserve the power they have, why should it be surprising that they would become defenders of the status quo in order to keep their power? This seems to me one of the most common political phenomenon visible to us throughout history. Are our politicians immune from such self-interested actions? And this in a republic that rests on and was intended to rest on self-interest, ala' Madison in Federalist 10 and 51? Or perhaps we just don't appreciate, as say Aristotle did, how fluid the political arena actually is; that is, how the democrats and the oligarchs are constantly vying for power and control.

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