The Thing Most Needful

 

If you have a moment free, read Steve Hayward’s “Crisis of the Conservative House Divided.” If you have hardly a free moment, read it anyway. Then read it again. It is that important.

Steve has cut through the muck — the list of good things that conservatives favor — and he has focused in on the only thing that really counts: whether elections matter any more.

Back in 1733, Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de la Brede et de Montesquieu published an exquisite little book entitled Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline. In a sly passage directed against the French monarchy, he focused in on an advantage that Rome possessed, which everyone reading it in that year would have recognized that France did not possess: the capacity to correct course. Then, he alluded to England’s ability to do so.

What he had in mind when he mentioned England had two dimensions: freedom of the press, and free elections. They enabled the people of England to force their rulers to alter course.

We can no longer do that. We can elect conservatives. We can elect them in a landslide, giving them more governorships, state houses, and more seats in Congress than Republicans have had at any time since 1928 — and nothing happens. The administrative state continues to grow; the progressives in charge force the states to accept same-sex marriage and men in the ladies room; they persuade all the universities in the land to institute an inquisition to hound and ruin young men who have incurred the pique of a young woman or two by stealing a kiss or (more often) by ceasing to steal kisses; and they promise to censor political dissent by identifying as “hate speech” any statement that breaks from orthodoxy.

In response, what do the conservatives in office do? They cower; they run; when put under pressure, they fold (yes, Mike Pence, it is you I have in mind). And when the Presidential candidate foisted on their party by popular fury aimed, in fact, at them speaks an unpleasant truth, they wring their hands. Theirs is the party of the white flag. They show their talents best in retreat.

The history of modern liberty has always been bound up with one thing: the capacity of the legislative power to elicit from the executive a redress of grievances. That is the role played from the medieval period on by England’s House of Commons, and it used to be the role played by our House of Representatives. The chief thing was not their law-making capacity — though that was important. The chief thing that gave them the leverage they needed if they were to hold the executive accountable and stop it in its tracks if it went astray was, as I argued in a blogpost some months ago, the power of the purse.

I do not know what will happen in November. I fear both possibilities. Neither Clinton nor Trump is, in my opinion, palatable. What I do know, however, is that if Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and their associates do not recover for the legislative branch of our government the power of the purse we might as well not have elections anymore. For the progressives will use their leverage in the courts and in the executive agencies to shove whatever measure elite opinion comes to favor down the throats of everyone else. We are no longer a democracy. We have become a narrow, ideologically-driven, highly partisan oligarchy, and it would take something like a revolution to restore constitutional democracy and democratic control in these United States.

Let me be blunt. Under our Constitution, the House of Representatives has the power to stop anything it really wants to stop. All that it has to do is to zero out the budget allocated for the activity it wants to stop. If it is unwilling or unable to exercise that power, it should close shop. The Republicans are the victims of their own cowardice.


This post was originally published on Oct. 23, 2016.

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  1. Profile photo of MarciN Member

    Great article that asks all the right questions.

    Six or seven presidential elections ago, I started wondering why so little changed after the elections given the strongly worded rhetoric of the campaigns I had followed.

    Then I watched reruns of the old British show Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. All became clear to me.

    When I was in high school, my history teacher said something to the effect of, “What destroyed modern England was its civil service.”

    How could we be so stupid? We saw what it did to England and how hard it was for England to dig itself out from under it.

    Why didn’t we steer a course around those rocks?

    I will never understand that.

    • #1
    • October 23, 2016 at 2:19 pm
  2. Profile photo of Valiuth Member

    Poppycock. Your view of American Democracy is one side professor. Has not our government changed course based on the will of the people? You just do not like their will and so ascribe it to the nefarious dealings of the executive and bureaucratic apparatus. Yet, the people through their ballot established both, petitioned both, and won. You point to the elections Republicans have won but what of those that they lost? You operate under the assumption that you are part of a majority, and thus do not comprehend how you could lose other than by the failures of your own political leaders. But, you are not part of a majority, and as such you lose at the ballot box the same as other minorities. The branches of the government are co-equal and the the Democrats have had control of one for eight years and the Republicans have only had control of one for two out of those eight, while the third was basically evenly split.

    Your range strikes me as impotent and childish. It has manifested itself physically into an equally impotent and childish candidate. And thus is leading to the obvious result. It would be better served if you could channel it into a positive message capable of attracting a political majority, but you don’t really seem interested in that at the moment.

    The system isn’t broken you just refuse to actually use it.

    • #2
    • October 23, 2016 at 2:29 pm
  3. Profile photo of Matt Bartle Member

    MarciN: Six or seven presidential elections ago, I started wondering why so little changed after the elections given the strongly worded rhetoric of the campaigns I had followed.

    That’s it right there.

    A few years ago I remember reading that Democrats were largely happy with their party, while Republicans were very dissatisfied with theirs. It has come home to roost and that’s why Trump.

    I sometimes think of this bit of dialog from Spartacus, delivered with menace by Lawrence Olivier:

    “There, boy, is Rome. The might, the majesty, the terror of Rome. There is the power that bestrides the known world like a colossus. No man can withstand Rome. No nation can withstand her. How much less… a boy! Hmm? [chuckles] There is one way to deal with Rome, Antoninus. You must serve her. You must abase yourself before her. You must grovel at her feet. You must… love her. Isn’t that so, Antoninus?”

    Substitute “Washington” for “Rome.”

    • #3
    • October 23, 2016 at 2:45 pm
  4. Profile photo of John Park Member

    Thank you for posting Steve’s article, Paul! The administrative state governs us without our consent, and that is part of the case that we need to make.

    • #4
    • October 23, 2016 at 2:48 pm
  5. Profile photo of Postmodern Hoplite Member

    Paul A. Rahe: We are no longer a democracy. We have become a narrow, ideologically-driven, highly partisan oligarchy, and it would take something like a revolution to restore constitutional democracy and democratic control in these United States.

    Between 1765 and 1775, the American populace, particularly the poorly-read frontiersmen who enjoyed little or no formal education, was well-enough versed in radical Whig philosophies that enough of the people were willing to take up arms to preserve the rights they valued.

    Is the American character still capable of such a revolution? Do we have the ways and means to achieve such ends?

    • #5
    • October 23, 2016 at 3:05 pm
  6. Profile photo of Kwhopper Member

    Valiuth: Has not our government changed course based on the will of the people?

    No. The will of a few progressives in the early 20th century started the change by going beyond what the Constitution allowed – culminating in FDR “saving” us from the depression. Letting out that genie changed the social contract at the Federal level so all bets were off.

    Valiuth: You just do not like their will and so ascribe it to the nefarious dealings of the executive and bureaucratic apparatus.

    Nobody voted for anyone to create Social Security, Medicare, the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of HHS, etc. All of these wield power in perpetuity, and are “accountable” to politicians long since gone.

    Valiuth: Yet, the people through their ballot established both, petitioned both, and won.

    None of the major bureaucratic agencies were established by ballot or petition.

    Valiuth: You operate under the assumption that you are part of a majority, and thus do not comprehend how you could lose other than by the failures of your own political leaders

    The House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans, and the House by Constitutional order controls appropriations.

    Valiuth: The branches of the government are co-equal and the the Democrats have had control of one for eight years and the Republicans have only had control of one for two out of those eight, while the third was basically evenly split.

    The damage was done decades ago.

    Valiuth: It has manifested itself physically into an equally impotent and childish candidate.

    Nothing to do with the post.

    Valiuth: It would be better served if you could channel it into a positive message capable of attracting a political majority, but you don’t really seem interested in that at the moment.

    There are few if any platforms Conservatives can present that compete with wealth redistribution at the ballot box. Ideas would be appreciated.

    Valiuth: The system isn’t broken you just refuse to actually use it.

    The Constitution is the framework for the entire system. The House of Representatives is given the ultimate authority in authorizing Federal spending. Republicans control the House, so Republicans control the spending. By your logic, it behooves Republicans to restrain spending by virtue of this control. That’s using the system.

    My real hope is that your post was satire.

    • #6
    • October 23, 2016 at 3:11 pm
  7. Profile photo of Larry Koler Member

    Paul A. Rahe: In response, what do the conservatives in office do? They cower; they run; when put under pressure, they fold (yes, Mike Pence, it is you I have in mind). And when the Presidential candidate foisted on their party by popular fury aimed, in fact, at them speaks an unpleasant truth, they wring their hands. Theirs is the party of the white flag. They show their talents best in retreat.

    This is my opinion, also.

    What I have posed over the last few years — regarding the spending (the purse) — is the notion that during the Reagan years the omnibus bills were put forward as a bully tactic by the Dems. The thing in those days was to talk about whether the president had a line item veto or not. If not, then let’s push for this. Nothing happened.

    Also, there was during this time the notion that government shutdowns were the fault of the president.

    But, here’s the weird thing — when things are reversed and there are Democratic Party presidents and Republican Congresses why do the omnibus bills that are (or might be) vetoed not used to blame the president for “shutting down the government”? Simple answer: the media determines who is responsible for the shutdowns.

    • #7
    • October 23, 2016 at 3:35 pm
  8. Profile photo of Larry Koler Member

    Finally, why don’t the Republicans put out a simple bill that — during a shutdown, for example — force the issue on the Dems? A simple bill that would have had universal support is one that funds just the Parks Department and the access to the Washington Mall. If the senate Dems filibusters then they are to blame. If it gets to the president and he vetoes it then he is to blame.

    Why is this simple tactic not used? Why do the Republicans cower so? Why?

    The media determines who is to blame.

    A further depth to the cowering issue is that Republicans refuse to fight people who buy ink by the barrel. They have no strategy, no long term ideas on how to solve this and they have no desire to deal with the media — best I can tell.

    • #8
    • October 23, 2016 at 3:43 pm
  9. Profile photo of Kwhopper Member

    Larry Koler: But, here’s the weird thing — when things are reversed and there are Democratic Party presidents and Republican Congresses why do the omnibus bills that are (or might be) vetoed not used to blame the president for “shutting down the government”? Simple answer: the media determines who is responsible for the shutdowns.

    Omnibus bills are a grand evil and coveted by all politicians for obvious reasons . Continuing Resolutions are almost as bad, but it’s close. We are still waiting for Speaker Ryan to fulfill his promise and restore regular order, particularly in appropriations. It borders on incalculable how much more restrained the Federal government would be if each department was funded by a separate bill.

    • #9
    • October 23, 2016 at 3:49 pm
  10. Profile photo of Douglas Member

    Valiuth: Has not our government changed course based on the will of the people?

    The Supreme Court and alphabet agencies handing down decrees is not ” the will of the people”.

    Had our forefathers known what he would spawn, they’d have hung John Marshall by the highest tree in Washington.

    • #10
    • October 23, 2016 at 3:49 pm
  11. Profile photo of Andrew427 Member

    Valiuth:The system isn’t broken you just refuse to actually use it.

    The view that the administrative state is a force that runs counter to democracy accurately diagnosis one of the current problems in our political environment. Although I wouldn’t have said it in the same terms, I agree with @valiuth that we aren’t trying hard enough to win broad support. No matter how much we admire Antonin Scalia, the fact that we had to rely on one unelected judge to guard conservatism from its enemies, shows that we are not in the healthiest situation.

    • #11
    • October 23, 2016 at 3:56 pm
  12. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    Much McConnell, by his own choice, the the power of the purse down the toilet. I doubt he will try to retrieve it.

    • #12
    • October 23, 2016 at 3:59 pm
  13. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    Valiuth:Poppycock. Your view of American Democracy is one side professor. Has not our government changed course based on the will of the people? You just do not like their will and so ascribe it to the nefarious dealings of the executive and bureaucratic apparatus. Yet, the people through their ballot established both, petitioned both, and won. You point to the elections Republicans have won but what of those that they lost? You operate under the assumption that you are part of a majority, and thus do not comprehend how you could lose other than by the failures of your own political leaders. But, you are not part of a majority, and as such you lose at the ballot box the same as other minorities. The branches of the government are co-equal and the the Democrats have had control of one for eight years and the Republicans have only had control of one for two out of those eight, while the third was basically evenly split.

    Your range strikes me as impotent and childish. It has manifested itself physically into an equally impotent and childish candidate. And thus is leading to the obvious result. It would be better served if you could channel it into a positive message capable of attracting a political majority, but you don’t really seem interested in that at the moment

    You seem to be responding to some other article than the one posted here.

    • #13
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:02 pm
  14. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    Larry Koler: Why is this simple tactic not used? Why do the Republicans cower so? Why?

    The answer is the Republicans don’t want the reforms the people elected them to enact.

    • #14
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:04 pm
  15. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member

    Douglas:

    Valiuth: Has not our government changed course based on the will of the people?

    The Supreme Court and alphabet agencies handing down decrees is not ” the will of the people”.

    Had our forefathers known what he would spawn, they’d have hung John Marshall by the highest tree in Washington.

    Patrick Henry predicted all this. He has been vindicated repeatedly.

    • #15
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:08 pm
  16. Profile photo of Kwhopper Member

    Andrew427: I agree with @valiuth that we aren’t trying hard enough to win broad support.

    In all seriousness – what would you suggest? We can’t directly vote these bureaucracies away at the ballot box, and many of the Conservatives we send to Congress can’t do it alone. What is the most direct way to eliminate some of these Departments from your perspective? I’m genuinely curious.

    • #16
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:11 pm
  17. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member

    The Reticulator:

    Larry Koler: Why is this simple tactic not used? Why do the Republicans cower so? Why?

    The answer is the Republicans don’t want the reforms the people elected them to enact.

    Actually the answer is more complicated. Because government appropriations have become an all or nothing gambit the cost/benefit of defunding has been skewed in the extreme. Even though we know for a fact that shutting down “the whole government” only results in the closure of niceties like parks and putting less than 10% of federal workers on hiatus the propaganda arm of the left and the administrative state (the media) win the day with their depictions of chaos and catastrophe. The cost has simply become too high and the benefit too slight for using the power of the purse. Ryan has worked hard (though very ineffectively) to get congress back to a normal appropriations process wherein they can wield the power of the purse as a rapier rather than a club. They want the reforms, but they lack the political capitol with which to realize them.

    • #17
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:15 pm
  18. Profile photo of Publius Thatcher

    MarciN: Six or seven presidential elections ago, I started wondering why so little changed after the elections given the strongly worded rhetoric of the campaigns I had followed.

    The political class didn’t do itself any favors by consistently over-promising and under-delivering. It’s one of the reasons we ended up with Donald Trump this time around and the irony is that he doubled down on over-promising. I think that’s part of the reason I think I want him to win. I’m hoping it will be a “teachable moment” for this generation of GOP primary voters. Or maybe it’s best if he doesn’t win so that he doesn’t break people’s hearts when he also under-delivers.

    • #18
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:17 pm
  19. Profile photo of Probable Cause Member

    When the House dares to hold the line on spending, it seems like half of conservatives exclaim,

    They’re shutting down the government! That’scraaaazy!

    And if that’s the kind of support they get from conservatives, much less moderates, then what do we expect?

    • #19
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:20 pm
  20. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member

    A few thoughts: Hayes seems to be channeling a less belligerent Codevilla in this.

    I’ve been thinking lately that the presidency isn’t just too big for Trump; rather, it is too big for anyone. The state of the state is that it has grown to such a degree no person (or even group of persons like the Congress) can do more than appease it with virginal sacrifices so that it does not consume the entire village. It is a Frankenstein’s monster.

    Perhaps Trump represents a reset, not a clean sweeping of the foundation, but a wholesale burning to the ground of the edifice of government so that we can get back more to the statesmanship the Claremonsters champion. Put the ship of state on the rocks, hole the hull, burn the sails, abandon this vessel which has been so modified (bastardized) that it no longer conforms to its design nor functions as intended, and start anew. Hopefully we’ll design less inherent weaknesses into the next time.

    • #20
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:22 pm
  21. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    The King Prawn: They want the reforms, but they lack the political capitol with which to realize them.

    They don’t want to sacrifice their own pork, which any real reforms will jeopardize

    • #21
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:25 pm
  22. Profile photo of Petty Boozswha Member

    I agree this was one of the most thought provoking articles I’ve seen lately. The main reason Republican Representatives as well as Democrats punt to the administrative agencies is because they want to be ombudsmen to the federal bureaucracy rather than decision makers that are likely to irritate 50% of the people when they make hard choices. Mark Leibovich’s book This Town, lays this mentality out in detail.

    The best potential antidotes to this problem, as I see it, would be to abolish the filibuster that provides the primary smokescreen for this obfuscation. The filibuster does not help conservatives, it has the same leftist ratcheting effect as stare decisis or the old Brezhnev Doctrine. The other is insist on good Justices by holding the line on Hillary’s appointments and third, impose Glenn Reynold’s revolving door tax on lobbying by Congresscritters and their families.

    • #22
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:26 pm
  23. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    Probable Cause:When the House dares to hold the line on spending, it seems like half of conservatives exclaim,

    They’re shutting down the government! That’scraaaazy!

    And if that’s the kind of support they get from conservatives, much less moderates, then what do we expect?

    This is a good point.

    • #23
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:27 pm
  24. Profile photo of The King Prawn Member

    The Reticulator:

    The King Prawn: They want the reforms, but they lack the political capitol with which to realize them.

    They don’t want to sacrifice their own pork, which any real reforms will jeopardize

    That’s too cynical by half for me.

    • #24
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:32 pm
  25. Profile photo of Bob Thompson Member

    Valiuth: Your range strikes me as impotent and childish. It has manifested itself physically into an equally impotent and childish candidate. And thus is leading to the obvious result. It would be better served if you could channel it into a positive message capable of attracting a political majority, but you don’t really seem interested in that at the moment.

    Since you are on a rambling rant, could you let us all know what this obvious result is that only you, with your extraordinary gift of prescience, can anticipate. Details, please.

    • #25
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:36 pm
  26. Profile photo of michael johnson Member

    [Redacted]

    • #26
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:45 pm
  27. Profile photo of Mike-K Coolidge

    MarciN: When I was in high school, my history teacher said something to the effect of, “What destroyed modern England was its civil service.”

    I wonder if you have ever read Theodore Dalrymple’s “The Uses of Corruption?”

    http://www.city-journal.org/html/uses-corruption-12180.html

    The British, by contrast, are still attached to their state as calves to the udder. They have just voted massively for a party and a man who claim to be responsible for everything—whose government has recently issued, for example, an official booklet to every engaged couple outlining the advantages and disadvantages of marriage, as if the population were incapable of thinking for itself even about those things that most intimately concern it (which, under a regime like this, is increasingly the case).

    What can be the future of a country whose government believes that the population needs to be told that marriage can sometimes result in marital disharmony?

    Or gay marriage is its equal ?

    • #27
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:45 pm
  28. Profile photo of Mike-K Coolidge

    Kwhopper: What is the most direct way to eliminate some of these Departments from your perspective? I’m genuinely curious.

    Elect someone who is not a professional politician who is not dependent on office and its perks and influence peddling to fund his children’s college. We have had a few but very few.

    Tom Coburn was one. He is ill or I would have voted for him in an instant. Trump is all we have at the moment.

    • #28
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:54 pm
  29. Profile photo of Matt Bartle Member

    michael johnson: [Redacted}

    What the hell??

    • #29
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:54 pm
  30. Profile photo of Mike-K Coolidge

    michael johnson: [Redacted]

    Do you mean Trump ? I doubt he knows as much as Steve and Paul but I think he knows enough.

    • #30
    • October 23, 2016 at 4:55 pm
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