"The past several weeks have made one thing crystal-clear: our country faces unmitigated disaster if the other side wins."

H. L. Mencken knew the score: "Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule—and both commonly succeed, and are right."

Last 5 posts by David Byron


  1. says

    Ah, Mr. Mencken. As great a source of quotations as can be found. ("A cynic is a man who, upon smelling flowers, immediately looks about for the coffin.")

  2. Gordon Clason says

    I'd like to vote for the side that will stop corporate welfare, close down Guantanimo, end destructive wars in the middle east, cease the ruinous "war on drugs", curb the TSA…

    Oops, that would be neither of them.

    Just how horrible can "the other side" be when they continue to implement all your own policies?

  3. Gal says

    I read a lot of complaints about the two-party system, but it still seems way better than the key-party system we have over here.

    At least the different ideologies are more or less defined. Ariel Sharon was voted in a second time on no platform whatsoever.

  4. Gavin says

    I am often concerned that either side will take complete majority of government. Equilibrium seems to be best so that no side can force themselves on the other and compromise is demanded. That means that core and necessary things are passed while the extreme stuff is cut away.

    Right now we're already out of equilibrium towards the republican side and they're not willing to budge (f-you tea party, I used to be ok to consider voting republican until the entire party got hijacked, or more noticeably so). I hope to see a decent swing, but not giving either party as much power as the republicans have now. I'm simply disgusted with all sides at the moment.

  5. Denisetwin says

    Gavin – I'm curious as to why you think the Republicans hold the power right now. The Democrats have the Presidency and the Senate and have since 2008. How does that translate into the Republicans having more power than the Dems?

  6. Valerie says

    @ Gavin, I agree, although I would say the problem is less equilibrium and more inflexibility and the inability to compromise (Tea Partiers are the worst on this, but the others don't have clean hands).

    My other major concern is that, to pass any meaningful legislation, one party must have 60 votes in the Senate. I used to support the phillbuster because I thought that, used sparingly, it helped to protect the voice of the minority party. Over the last decade, however, both sides have increasingly used it in place of good faith negotiation. That's not good – democracy doesn't function well without compromise.

    Whoever wins, he won't have that magic number in the Senate, so I fear the clusterfuck will continue indefinitely.

  7. Grifter says


    What I don't get is why the filibuster abuse has been so effective. It seems like as soon as a filibuster happens, there's a big to-do. I feel like if the opposing side said "Fine, we'll make sure you follow the letter of the rule, but go ahead and filibuster if you want to, we'll let government grind to a halt so you can have your tantrum", the filibusters would in a short time find people's opinions turned against them.

    As I understand it, filibusters were really for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-level problems. Things you thought really were important enough to stop all of everything over. I believe they were supposed to be self-limiting, in that you had to find the issue important enough to be willing to stop government and possibly throw away your career. Now, it seems, they both just cave to each other and just complain loudly.

  8. says

    @Grifter: You're exactly right. The filibuster IS for those sorts of problems. If you're not willing to stand up there and just keep talking, I don't think you should be able to hold something up from a vote. The problem has been that the Senate now has something called "dual tracking," whereby they can have 2 things up for consideration at once. Basically, if some Senator wants to "filibuster" something, they can, and Harry Reid will just say, "Ok, sure, you can do that. Now, let's move on to this *other* things we need to work on…" Basically, as long as only one thing is being objected to, the Senate can still keep working.

    The biggest problem right now in the government, though, is that the House refuses to pass anything that the Senate would even remotely consider even taking up for debate. Sure, they say they've passed X number of bills this year, but they're all hideously partisan and unproductive (ITDHO – In This Democrat's Humble Opinion), with zero chance the President would sign them. It's as Valerie said, the Tea Partiers are the worst when it comes to being unwilling to compromise, and the rest of the GOP is being dragged along with them or else faces the wrath of the far right.

    "Clusterfuck" is exactly the right word.

  9. Jeremy says

    I don't agree that the tea partiers are the worst at compromise. What the tea partiers are good at is demanding what both major parties are unwilling to give, that is, a fiscally conservative government. On this point there should be no compromise as both parties collude to dump pork into every bill they pass. The tea party was started because enough people were disgusted with the waste, the lack of a budget since Bush Jr, the exploding federal deficit, and the inevitable taxes that will be raised to pay for it all (hence the name Tea Party).

    Please don't confuse co-opted right-wing extremism with the tea party's core message, which is fiscal conservatism. And on that single point, I agree with them in that compromise should not be tolerated as both major parties just spend our children's money like they're on vacation.

  10. Cloudesley Shovell says

    Reminds me of the PJ O'Rourke classic: "Democrats are also the party of government activism, the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller, and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it."

  11. AJ says

    It is easier to invoke cloture in the Senate now then it was in the past (prior to 1975.) This has resulted in more bills being passed by the majority in the Senate. It's just that the screaming about it is louder now.

    At one point, before Woodrow Wilson was elected, it required 100% of the Senate to end debate. The two thirds rule was enacted to "get things done," which has been subsequently reduced to 60%.

  12. TimS says

    I don't understand why forcing a "real" filibuster is supposed to reduce the use of the filibuster. All it takes is three or four Senators to delay. Meanwhile, the proponents need to keep fifty-one Senators available on a moments notice in case the filibuster falters. That's a lot more work for the majority than the minority.

  13. says

    Gridlock is a feature, not a bug. Our government was designed, in part, to make passing laws difficult, and this is not a bad thing. Of course, this system wasn't designed with the idea that government would be so inexorably intertwined with every facet of our lives that any failure of government to be responsive would disrupt day-to-day life in non-crisis situations. (As a side note, the filibuster is invariably "a vital protection against mob rule" when one's preferred party is out of power, and "an anachronism that allows a minority to impede progress and thwart democracy" when one's preferred party is in power.)

  14. says

    @Jeremy: Care to explain what fiscal conservatism, which I wholly support, has to do with gay marriage, birth control, or the ultimate in invisible hobgoblins, sharia law?

    Can you point me to a Tea Party candidate elected to Congress who is not also a social conservative? Can you show me where Tea Party candidates have acted to vote against socially conservative amendments to unrelated bills, in the name of focusing on fiscal policy and not being sidetracked by emotional and social issues that are not the proper province of government?

  15. ZK says

    I'm constantly amazed that people regard a grid-locked and ineffective legislature, too uncompromising and paralyzed to pass many meaningful bills as a *problem*. In my mind, it's a feature, not a bug. It minimizes the damage both parties would inevitably do, if they were able.

    Are there times I wish compromise could happen more often? Sure. But given the choice between productive lawmakers and gridlocked lawmakers, it's not close.

    And it's just a distortion that nothing at all gets done; the 112th Congress still has managed to pass around 150 bills so far. Hopefully, this grid-lock has limited most of them to things that congress is actually good at, like naming government buildings.

  16. ZK says

    Despite a few high-profile clashes, the 112th congress has passed 150-ish measures (through both the house and senate) in about that many working days. Obama has signed all but two.

    It depends how you calculate it, but when I calculated it a month or two ago, it was a measure every 1.1 days when the Senate was in session. Previous "very productive" congresses have averaged a measure every 0.9 days, so one might wonder what the yelling is really all about.

  17. Orv says

    @Lizard: Gridlock on major reforms that are genuinely controversial is often helpful, because it forces prolonged debate. However, when it's used simply as a stalling tactic, in order to deny the Other Side any kind of accomplishment, it starts to become a problem.

    To me the best evidence that it's gotten out of hand is the record number of federal court vacancies. Congress is so gridlocked that they will not approve even uncontroversial nominees. It's become all about sticking a finger in the eye of the party that has the presidency.

    I don't actually get a warm fuzzy about the original article, either. I feel taking the position that they're all hopeless bastards is mostly just an excuse for inaction. People usually use it as a justification for checking out of the process.

  18. says

    @Orv: "I don't actually get a warm fuzzy about the original article, either. I feel taking the position that they're all hopeless bastards is mostly just an excuse for inaction. People usually use it as a justification for checking out of the process."

    "No matter who you vote for, the government gets elected."

    They are all hopeless bastards. I was happy when Obama was elected, because I knew it would lead to another generation of wide-eyed idealists getting smacked hard in the face by harsh reality. Is there anything as delicious as the tears of a former idealist? No. There is not. It's not a matter of reforming the system, because the problem is people, not the system. It's not a matter of electing the right people, because there are no right people. Every flaw in government arises from the realities of human nature, and it doesn't matter which humans you put in power, at the core, they're — WE'RE, I must not exclude myself — all the same. The best you can do is try to design systems which accept human nature and work with it, and limit the harm any person can do to anyone else. This is usually done by dividing power so that every faction is more concerned with limiting the power of other factions than with using it themselves. (Liberal democracies begin to collapse when it becomes possible to keep increasing the amount of power the government has, so that politicians can keep growing their own power instead of constantly fighting over a very small pie.)

    The worst you can do is try to redesign humanity to fit your ideal system.

  19. Gavin says


    It's merely the way they're using the ownership of the house. The way the system is set, if any one party owns an extreme majority of the house or the senate and is unwilling to compromise then they basically win. The Senate only has a slight majority going to one team. This means that compromise is a lot easier than the HUGE advantage that is seen in the House where what one party says, goes. Combine that with the ability to filabuster in the Senate and the democrats are screwed in getting anything at all passed that the republicans don't want.

    The presidency doesn't really matter in my book. Just the Congress and the Judicial Branch. The presidency is mostly just the enforcer (though they can certainly set policy but they can't change the constitution or laws).

    When compromise is not necessary, it does not happen. It is against our nature to compromise when we don't have to with members of other "tribes".

    I would be equally upset if it was the Democrats at such a huge advantage.


    The tea partiers specifically run a campaign on not compromising. For them to compromise would literally be for them to break their promise to the people who elected them in. To say that they're not the worst offenders of being unwilling to compromise is to ignore their own words and intentions. To them, no compromise is a feature. It is bad enough to drive a moderate conservative to the hills.

  20. Grifter says

    Douglas Adams said it best:

    "The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job."

  21. says


    I'll have to look into those numbers. I recall hearing recently on NPR that the 112th makes the original "Do Nothing" Congress that FDR dealt with look like workaholics, so I'm going to have to reserve judgment pending a bit more research…Still, interesting and highly intriguing if true…

  22. AlphaCentauri says

    How many of those bills were stuff like recognizing National Bedsore Awareness Month?

  23. ZK says

    @Josh M.

    I used the numbers from an article titled "Congress: Same hours, half the work". Google can find it. It seemed like the headline wasn't supported by the numbers they quoted, which were:

    111th Congress: 383 Bills, 349 Days (Senate being the longer pole).
    112th Congress: 132 Bills, 150 Days (House being in session longer).

  24. ZK says

    I'd be curious what you find. I've been assuming that journalists just weren't very good at math, and were taking press-releases about high-profile logjams (like the budget showdowns and clashes over the debt ceiling) as fact.

  25. Jeremy says

    Care to explain what fiscal conservatism, which I wholly support, has to do with gay marriage, birth control, or the ultimate in invisible hobgoblins, sharia law?

    Jeremy said on Aug 22, 2012 @7:25 am:
    Please don't confuse co-opted right-wing extremism with the tea party's core message, which is fiscal conservatism. And on that single point, I agree with them in that compromise should not be tolerated as both major parties just spend our children's money like they're on vacation.

    The tea partiers specifically run a campaign on not compromising. For them to compromise would literally be for them to break their promise to the people who elected them in. To say that they're not the worst offenders of being unwilling to compromise is to ignore their own words and intentions. To them, no compromise is a feature. It is bad enough to drive a moderate conservative to the hills.

    It's non-compromise on one issue, at least at inception it was. The situation in Washington is this: We have two major parties. They generally disagree with each other publicly on marketable issues purely for political leveraging purposes. What they don't disagree on is spending money they don't have. In fact the only fights they stage for political benefit are over what to spend this nonexistant funding on. Why would anyone compromise with wasteful spending? What possible rationale could be offered to allow for compromise with legislated pork?

    A vote for either of the major parties in congress is a vote for continued deficit spending, regardless what spin anyone wants to throw on their choice of candidate. Neither of those parties should have anyone's loyalty for any reason when they continue to throw money they don't have at every politically-marketable non-problem.

  26. Gavin says

    I want you to imagine this. Imagine a politician who gets up and says the following words:

    1. Departments of government are set up in such a way that they actually try to spend all of their annual funding and sometimes even a little more for fear getting less funding the following year.
    2. This setup is entirely unsustainable and leads to significant waste of taxpayer dollars by overpaying for services that would normally cost much less (contractors!) while demanding more to cover the ever increasing, already inflated budgets.
    3. My (the politician speaking) goal is to incentivize the decision makers in each department to come in under budget and to later incentivize them to maintain a reasonable budget after acceptable levels have been achieved.
    4.The process will require careful decision making at the individual department level to ensure that items/services which should not be cut or reduced are not and that these decision makers do not cut simply inappropriate things just to get their small kickback (like cutting salaries so low that they aren't competitive).
    5. Doing this would make tax dollars more efficient and so would be the equivalent of raising taxes without anyone paying more money. All sides win.

    If a chipmunk with a tophat got up on the podium with this plan taped to its hand, I would vote for it. Holy crap would I vote for it. If he then outlined a plan to expose medical costs to market conditions to allow providers to appropriately compete with eachother then I think I might have to kiss him and I'm not even into animals that much.

  27. darius404 says

    All sides win.

    Except for the sides that don't want to decrease spending, or even keep spending steady. Which at the moment is BOTH sides. Not to mention that the plan ignores our massive debt, which again neither side seems actually interested in paying off.

  28. Random Encounter says

    If he then outlined a plan to expose medical costs to market conditions to allow providers to appropriately compete with each other

    At the risk of a derail, I'd be really interested in what such a plan might look like.

    Remember that the constraints on finding a proper healthcare provider are distance, time, cost, and quality. Frequently distance and time will win as a matter of necessity, so it seems to me that there is no possibility of a free market on quality and cost.

  29. James Pollock says

    There is a fairly significant disconnect on government spending (even by people who oppose nearly all of it). We (individually and collectively) like it when the government spends money in our neighborhood… partly because it buys us things we need or at least can use; mostly because the money spent locally shows up as income to SOMEBODY and they turn around and spend at least part of it in the local economy. Don't believe me? Tune in to hear the screeching from the locals when the military tries to close a base they don't think they need anymore.
    No, what we object to is all that spending in OTHER PEOPLE'S Congressional districts. What people who advocate immediate, large cuts in federal government spending fail to consider is that every dollar the government spends shows up as income for somebody. If you pull all that spending, all at once, you'll crash the economy rather spectacularly. You need a slow, gradual increase of revenues combined with a slow, gradual decrease in expenditure combined with (and this is the hard one) discipline by both parties to leave the surplus as a surplus, and not as A) a source of funding for new or expanded programs, or B) justification for immediate large tax cuts. If you can get all of those things together for 20 or 30 years, the national debt will cease to be a cause for concern. Anyone who advocates for less than all three elements is either fooling themselves or trying to pull a fast one.

  30. Dan Weber says

    Gridlock is a feature, not a bug

    I'd normally agree, but sometimes there are problems that need work. Social Security and Medicare are on auto-pilot. If all Congresses are suspended from now to the end of time, they still allocate money according to rigid formulae that will bankrupt the country if they are not changed.

    Can you point me to a Tea Party candidate elected to Congress…

    Not quite the question you asked, but the one time the Tea Party seemed to be anything but Super Republicans was when NDAA was up. IIRC Jon Stewart showcased the very few people that were concerned with the power it would grant, and one of them was Paul Ryan. Those few people faced considerable scorn from both parties for wanting Americans blown up or something.

    If there are other examples, I'd like to hear of them.

  31. says

    American Political Parties: A quick reference.

    Tea Party: For "fiscally conservative" but don't understand finance at all, secretly want complete reproductive slavery for women and the poor. Uses religion as a backstop for all arguments. Wants to end social security because fuck the workers who have paid for it for forty years. Supported by aging racists who see no problem with shouting "keep your government hands off of my Medicare".

    Mainstream Republican: "fiscally conservative" and understand finance to mean that an infinite amount of money can be spent as long as it isn't mentioned in the bill because the government can borrow whatever it wants, or take it from the post office and social security. secretly gay and knows that reproductive slavery of women seems to get them votes. Uses religion as a club because it works. Largely supported by a southern base of poor white people who believe that anything good for the darkies is bad for themselves, so they vote for things that are bad for the darkies regardless of what it means for themselves. Willing to vote for anything that keeps the rich people rich and happily gainful. Very elitist.

    Democrats: actually fiscally conservative (no really, government spending and crime both decline under democratic mandate) and understand finance enough to know that taxes must be levied in proportion to spending, which lets those above call them "tax and spend". Don't give a rats ass about reproductive slavery, they would let it all lapse but are unwilling to face down anybody on the topic so they let the above set the agenda on these matters. Don't care much about religion but are willing to try take the club of it out of their opponents hands and give it a swing or two. Unable to generate a salient message and stick to it, possibly because of an unwarrented belief in the never-actually-seen "bipartisanship" and "gentlemanly debate". Unwilling to smack down the agendas of others. In short, good positions but too much milquetoast to actually lead instead of follow. Generally educated but unable to make uneducated people understand that "educated" and "elite" are different things. Doesn't know what "hardball" actually means.

    Libertariansim: fiscally clueless to an unutterable degree. Believes in an absence of government. Composed of a microns-thick chocolaty envelope of neo-communists intelligentsia wrapped around a meaty nougat of raciest douchtards who really just want to rid themselves of all the social reforms that force them to deal with the darkies, spics, jews, and homos as people. Supported by a large number of people who have only read "the positive headlines" in the platforms but cannot be bothered to open the papers and read the fine print and so cannot tell the difference between he color-glossy brochure for the peace corps and actually going to Africa or Central America and getting their ass raped by some 34 member junta.

    Communists: yea right. Communism _would_ be the perfect system of government if no human beings were involved… There have been governments that claim to be communist, but there has never yet been a communist state since, by definition, communism is the dissolution of the state that theoretically happens right after each human discovers that his true calling is to muck out sewers and haul away garbage. All the demographics that were drawn to the communist ideals in the sixties through the eighties are largely now libertarians because that is easier to be and more popular while still being seen as "edgy" down at the university coffee shop.

  32. says

    The Purpose of Government: the secret truth…

    The actual purpose of government is to, through taxing and spending, force people to pay for things they are too stupid to pay for on their own.

    People demand things, like having an Emergency Medical Facility near by, but nobody ever wants to put that on their personal line-item budget. Consider the number of "healthy young people wihtout health insurance". Each one of them, be they snow-boarder or couch potato, want to spend zero cash on keeping the health care system moving and underwriting its expenses. They don't want to pay out of pocket for insurance "they don't expect to need" and they will largely vote for tax cuts etc. But when a local hospital closes they -might- complain. But while most accidents happen in or near the home, if they get injured "downtown" while patronizing that dive-bar in "the bad section of town that is so edgy right now" they will scream and moan about how bad the local hospital was, never thinking that it would have been in their best interest to fund a hospital "way over there were it didn't apply to them" etc.

    So this very country -tried- the libertarian and purely voulentary federal government. It was called "the Articles of Confederation" and it lasted for all of six years before it was replaced by the U.S. Constitution. The states were going to fund the Confederacy on a purely voluntary basis with their surpluses. But how often to states run a surplus. In that six years the Confederacy got like one giant lot of shoes sent to it or some such.

    [ASIDE: many of you are probably confused. See The Confederacy isn't something that the south made up from whole cloth. The southern states were made certain promises for their willingness to overturn the Confederacy in favor of the constitution. The civil war was really an attempt by the south to withdraw from the Constitution based on their belief that those promises were not kept. The bill of rights, e.g. the first ten amendments, were added to the constitution as one entity because these were the items that the first constitutional congress felt were missing from the core document. The first contentintal congress passed the constitution with the understanding that those ten items would be fixed immediately. The government really did, at one point, work on gentlemanly fulfillment of unwritten agreements.]

    So when we read the preamble of the Consititution we must remember the Confederacy.

    (From memory:) We the people of the united states [e.g. the Confederacy made the united states a real thing, not a proposed thing at this point] in order to form a more perfect union [the libertarian confederacy was terminally flawed], establish justice [there were no federal courts and things were getting contentious for lack of referee], insure domestic tranquility [there was no federal police to intervene in inter-state criminal activity], provide for the common defense [the Confederacy had an army but so far it had received a lot of shoes and it takes more than shoes to field an army], promote the general welfare [this one is tricky, "welfare" in that day and age meant "health and safety" in the general sense, but there are no elements of this in the document thereafter, so this is a socialist ideal mentioned as desirable but not acted on immediately], and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity [not just citizens, but posterity], do ordain and establish this Constitution for the united states of america.

    Now at the time "welfare" meant health and safety. But health and safety measure didn't exist so none were offered in the constitution. It's like the guys were thinking ahead. They wrote down systems they understood and gave a nod to what needed to be figured out. All of the systems that they enshrined were modeled on systems that were known, not just to exist, but to function tolerably well. Checks and balances, bicameral legislature, one final military authority who can wage a war but not declare one, this was all stuff that existed elsewhere. It is only really significant that here was an opportunity to cherry-pick the best and instance it all at once.

    So welfare is there, but without a known-working system to select, no system was proposed.

    So here we are, after a couple hundred years, with the clean air and water acts, social security, and "welfare" systems. Now that we know how these systems can work, we are compelled to spend money on them by our government… big surprise… that's what it's there for.

    It has -always- been the point of the U.S. Constitution that money must be paid to the government so that money can be spent by the government.

    It is a modern corruption, this instant polling of public opinion. The instant poll is -killing- the constitutional govenment because it prevents leadership. Tea Tards actually bark about it when their "leaders" enact "unpopular" legislation.

    The entire point of electing representatives is that those representatives are now (in theory) paid to look more deeply into each issue for causes and into expectations in search of otherwise unexpected consequences. We are supposed to elect wise and trustworthy individuals and then trust them to act wisely instead of riding them moment-by-moment, beating them with our undeliberated passions and uninformed instincts.

    The government exists to -prevent- ochlocracy (mob rule and the tyranny of the masses) but instant polling creates it and the callow popularists it elects foster it at every turn.

    Our government fails because it is too spineless, individual by individual, to face being single-term wise men.

  33. says

    The medical system and economy in this country was crashed by Kaiser Permenenti (however you spell it) which was the advent of for-profit health care.

    Prior to this, all companies of any size in the direct health care market (e.g. the set of corporate entities that directly treated patients) were 401c(x) [if memory of that part of the tax code serves] not-for-profit entities. Yes most were run by larger charitable institutions (churches, the shriners, etc).

    Now most such institutions "made money" (there is no rule that not-for-profit institutions must operate at a net loss each quarter) but such gains were typically modest and none of those gains would or even -could- find their way into the pockets of share holders and investors. Additionally rich people could then "endow" such institutions for philanthropic reasons and then deduct those endowments from their taxes and such.

    The truth of this is then that until the seventies or so, there was no profit motive in seeing patients on core medical issues. Small boutique practices for elective stuff (e.g. medical beauticians) existed to service that sort of niche, but getting heart surgery wasn't -expected- to be profitable for the hospital.

    This also naturally kept lawsuits somewhat in check because the whole "you are going to sue the catholic church, or the shriners, for doing their best just because it world out poorly?" made the prospective plantiff think more than once about whether it was just an unfortunate outcome.

    Also the boards of directors for those instutions were then, by definition all "trustees", which has a higher duty of care and dilligence under the law than mere board members of a for-profit enterprise. As such they would be naturally more careful and less bullshit and shenanigans would be happening in medicine.

    Were I able to wave a magic wand over government I would change the law such that any corporation or institution that services patients directly, and which employs or consists of more than four doctors or twenty medical personnel in total, must and may only be incorporated as a not-for-profit entity.

    This would be a panacea cure-all but it would go a long way to undoing the harm to the medical system that we have seen in the last thirty or forty years.