Slow and Steady Wins the Race

The Economist notices that Matt Yglesias is against the United States Senate, while Ezra Klein is losing faith in the American system of government:

Something might get done. And if that something that gets done extends health-care coverage to 40 million people who don’t now have it, that will be a big deal, and a big improvement in the lives of many, many Americans. It’s important for people who get good health care and have the luxury of seeing this as an intellectual and political project to keep that in mind.
But whatever gets done will be much too expensive because the political system is very afraid of harming any of the relevant industries. Taibbi is right that this, like climate change, is a litmus test for our government. Both are serious, foreseeable and solvable threats to our society. One threatens to bankrupt the country. The other threatens irreversible damage to the planet we live on. Responding to such threats is the test of a political system. And our system will fail it. We will not avert catastrophic climate change. We will not protect ourselves from health-care inflation.

All this helps me to clarify how my idea of government differs from theirs. The Founders designed the United States government to safeguard basic freedoms and disperse power as a hedge against tyranny. The ensuing 200+ years is a compelling argument that their priorities were wisely chosen. Apparently, Ezra judges governmental frameworks by another metric — their ability to respond to controversial long term threats long before they come to fruition. A political system that doesn’t take immediate action against these kinds of threats is a failure by the litmus test he suggests.

I reject that litmus test as a measure of a political system — it is impossible to guarantee that long term problems with be quickly solved without concentrating power in dangerous ways.

What is most striking is the short memory of progressive bloggers on these matters. Isn’t Social Security a “serious, foreseeable and solvable” threat to America’s fiscal health? Didn’t President George W. Bush campaign on its privatization? Wasn’t he unable to make that happen even at the height of his post-9/11 popularity, with a complacent media and a friendly Congress? And don’t progressives regard that as a good thing? What about Ronald Reagan, and his promise to shrink government? Despite two easy wins at the polls, he never managed to eliminate the Department of Education, or to radically shrink the bureaucracy.

The United States government is built to resist radical changes in policy. That frustrates both political parties and the sundry ideologies they encompass at various times, but it’s served our nation rather well during its history, and the idea that we ought to deem the approach a failure due to Barack Obama’s inability to pass sweeping health care reform or climate change legislation is short-sighted, to say the least.