Sunday, December 30, 2012

The bigger picture


By Bill Kraus

Thanks to the Watergate reform defanging of the parties, and the assertiveness of factions everywhere, legislative leaders are now markedly more powerful and markedly more beset than their titles suggest. They are slating, funding and managing campaigns, and herding the cats that make up their feuding caucuses when movements like the tea party unload a not-entirely-welcome caucus within the caucus.

Their mission used to be to get a working, manageable majority so they could fashion things like budgets and legislation, generally, that came from the executive offices or their own members.

What they had to do was craft things that were neither profligate nor penurious and receive the accolades and re-elections which followed from the large majority of voters who want a government that works.

They now have to rise above selecting and electing a bunch of lemmings who will quietly do their bidding. They have to make sure the pipeline is full of people who are more ambitious and rambunctious who have the potential to rise to higher office, even including their own.

They also have to pay attention to maintaining a working representative democracy and to protect it from assaults from every direction, the rapacious, scary and affluent interests particularly.

In 1914 George Bernard Shaw warned that the powers that were leading the countries of Europe were pursuing policies and programs that would inevitably lead to war. He was right.

The legislatures and their more empowered leaders today are pursuing policies and programs and creating cultures that will inevitably lead to deadlock and gridlock and ungovernability.

Empty pipelines are just another warning that something may be amiss.

A few decades ago the complaint about the legislatures and their leaders was that they were too ambitious, and, that as the power pyramid narrowed the internecine warfare for the fewer higher offices escalated.

Not long ago there was an open governor’s seat in Wisconsin. None of the incumbent 132 state legislators sought it. This pipeline paucity may not be solely attributable to the decline of the party leaders’ power and the rise of the legislative leaders to a wider role in governance, but it is more than a coincidence.

Dissatisfaction with the way things work will give rise to radical revisions with their own set of shortcomings. Term limits come to mind. If the entrenched, invincible incumbents and their leaders continue to draw mostly scorn and low popularity ratings, meat ax solutions will look better and better to a dissatisfied populace.

The deafness, dumbness, and blindness to the collateral damage of seeking nothing but short-term advantage threatens more than the legislative leaders whose hands are firmly on the levers of power. It extends to the system itself.

In a way, it’s the curse of power. With increased authority comes increased responsibility. Who thought that those elected to lead half of a legislative body would be charged with representing the interests of everybody?

Not me. Not them. But that seems to be the hand that has been dealt.

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