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.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Making a list


By Bill Kraus

1. A move to fix the recall provision so this expensive, divisive, extreme procedure no longer takes the place of the next election where bad ideas and their proponents can and should get their just rewards.

2. A place on the short agenda for dispassionate redistricting after the 2020 census so more of us get to cast a meaningful vote for state and federal legislators in November.

3. A competent manager, preferably one with Republican credentials, to put wheels under the new health care act. FDR found John Winant to make the almost equally confounding social security law work 80 years ago.

4. A Legislature composed of people whose objective is to give us a government that works instead of an arena for watching competing ideologies duke it out.

5. An end to six elections per year.

6. A place on the permanent short agenda for the place and kinds of guns in our country.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The passage of power: revisited


By Bill Kraus

Who thought that last week’s blog post on how parties lost their mojo and the power to slate and fund legislative campaigns moved, however erratically, to the now much more powerful legislative leaders would be followed by the loss of political power by yet another 800-pound gorilla, the National Rifle Association?

The massacre in Connecticut, the law of unintended consequences, and a widespread cry of “Stop! Enough already!” has combined to put a spotlight on what decades of bullying of legislatures everywhere by the vocal leaders and members of that organization have unintentionally but inevitably led to in this country.

By an odd coincidence, a federal court in Chicago had called the people of Illinois to task for not doing what 49 other states had done by failing to allow concealed carry of handguns. What side of the looking glass are we on here? This seemed to me to complete the circle of guns first, foremost, always, and everywhere.

I have always thought that it was sensible, logical, and civilized to confine the possession of weapons the only purpose of which is to kill people to those who police and defend us.

The paranoids at the NRA thought otherwise, and they have unaccountably won the day almost everywhere almost all the time.

So far.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Redoing redistricting


By Bill Kraus

Legislative leaders have never been unimportant to the workings of this democracy. Nor have they had the kind of roller coaster ride like they’ve been on the last four decades.

Years of stability came to an end with the Watergate reforms of the early 1970s which ended the dominant role of the political parties, political bosses (remember them?) and precinct politics (if you haven’t read it, go to the library and pick up the slim volume Plunkett of Tammany Hall) in picking the legislators the leaders were to lead.

What those reforms were intended to do was correct the fundraising abuses by the Republican Party in Nixon’s 1972 campaign. When the law of unintended consequences intruded, those reforms drastically diminished the dominant role the parties and their bosses had in raising money which ended their equally important role in recruiting and slating candidates and in the management of campaigns for those they dubbed and funded.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Five myths we can do without


By Bill Kraus

The Lee Dreyfus dictum--never underestimate the peoples’ intelligence or overestimate their information--while true, doesn’t specifically warn against the Mythology Problem Delusion. I suppose it is an offshoot of the Information Problem. If one doesn’t know better, one is susceptible to myths, old wives tales, conspiracy theories, and worse.

Five myths come to mind.

Government can and should be run like a business.

Business works as well as it does in no small measure because it is organized on the totalitarian model. Like a dictatorship. Okay, a benign dictatorship. But nonetheless if the boss likes an idea, that idea is likely to prevail. Government is organized on the democratic model where all the participants have more or less equal power and can use that power to advance their own ideas, adopt the ideas of others, or block any and all ideas. The excellent new movie about and called Lincoln is a basic lesson in how democracy works if, as, and when it works. As a wise mother and political activist puts it, “Getting what you want in politics is accomplished by a combination of threats and bribes, not unlike the techniques employed in raising children.”

The other not insignificant difference between governing and managing is that government is conducted in public. As I told a company CEO onetime who was spouting the government-can-be-run-like-a-business nonsense, “Let me know if you plan to invite the press to your board of directors meetings, and we’ll talk.”