Monday, June 19, 2006

Hurray for sleaze!

More stalemate please

It can be quite refreshing to read a new take on an old problem. The conventional wisdom needs to be questioned occasionally. However, I'm pretty certain that it does us little good to replace the conventional wisdom with unconventional stupidity.

But I could be wrong. There's a pretty big “government is inherently evil” crowd out there. They are the people who celebrate gridlock and inaction (at least until an earthquake or hurricane or tornado hits their neighborhood).

From the June 18, 2006, Letters to the Editor:

Fallacy of political compromise

Re “Filling a need: moving beyond hardball politics,” June 15: Morton Kondracke decries “ugly, unproductive” partisanship and yearns for a new third “unity” party. Political compromise is the art of betraying those who put you in office in order to claim that you are above politics.

The Clintons, masters of sleaze, even invented a word for their twist on duplicity: triangulation, meaning they knew how to screw you three ways instead of the usual two. Bipartisans are like bisexuals: unable to make a clear choice, always wanting to have things at least two ways, depending on who is at the party.

America needs more partisanship, not less. Partisan gridlock is a thing of beauty. It stops the government from inventing new ways to collect and waste taxpayer money, and it's the only form of entertainment that costs less to indulge in than to avoid.

So three cheers for Rep. Tom Delay, four cheers for Ann Coulter. Send a brick to your congressman and a can of gasoline to your senator; stand back and enjoy the show. And pray for our sake that they never get along.

Richard Lavallee, Sacramento

Okay, I agree with Mr. Lavallee that Kondracke is a fool to think that a third party is a miracle solution for our political problems. If you want to get something done, take over one of the major parties and don't waste your time messing around with the psycho fringe. The Goldwaterites seized control of the Republican Party in 1964 (only to discover that the general public did not share their enthusiasm for extremism). The McGovernites outhustled the competition to put their stamp on the Democratic Party in 1972 (although they found out to their dismay that the American voters weren't ready to support a peace party). Both intra-party insurgencies experienced cataclysmic political defeats, but both major parties bear the stamp of those movements. They were just ahead of their time. In fact, the GOP is now the captive of neo-cons that dramatically out-Goldwater Goldwater. (May their tribe soon experience a defeat similar to that of 1964 or 1974.)

Other than our shared disdain for the notion of a third party, however, I think that the letter writer and I agree on rather little. Lavallee celebrates gridlock. It's a simplistic political philosophy: “That government is best which governs least.” The quote is from Thomas Paine, so it has a respectable American heritage. Paine, however, was writing in a time when it was possible to entertain such libertarian fantasies. Things have gotten considerably more complicated since the eighteenth century.

Californians need to learn this lesson. When the state government fails to act, the electorate takes matters into its own hands. Or thinks it does. The initiative measures enacted into law as ballot propositions are mostly written by lobbyists who wish to bypass the scrutiny of our elected representatives. The famous Proposition 13 certainly saved a lot of people's homes in 1978 by slashing the property tax, but it also effected a shift from corporate properties to personal properties (commercial properties don't change hands as often as homes and thus aren't reassessed under the provisions of Proposition 13 for higher property taxes as often as residences). Even worse, Proposition 13 gutted local control (by gutting the biggest local revenue source) and put the state government in charge of the remaining purse strings. Did you think Proposition 13 was a people's rebellion against high taxes. Only in a way. The actual vote was certainly fueled by that sentiment, but the proposition itself was written by owners of large commercial properties. They did very well under Proposition 13, thank you very much.

Why didn't California enact a more balanced property tax reform measure? Gridlock. Deliberate gridlock in Sacramento fostered by allies of the Proposition 13 sponsors. Gridlock is not a solution. It is, rather, a mechanism for circumventing the state government and allowing the monied interests to promote their special causes as ballot propositions. If you include a sweetener for the general electorate, you can get your preferences into state law. Yay for gridlock!

Lavallee's slightly incoherent rant includes some internal contradictions. He lauds Tom DeLay? The indicted former majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives is the exact opposite of gridlock. DeLay epitomizes the strong-arm approach to governance, using the congressional majority to ram through measure after measure. You'd think that Lavallee would prefer to celebrate someone who can't get things done. DeLay's downfall should be an occasion of joy. (It sure is for me!)

By contrast, Lavallee finds it necessary to snipe at the Clintons for their successes. President Clinton's “triangulation” (a term actually popularized by former presidential advisor Dick Morris, who now prefers to shill for the Republican right) enabled him to cobble together support from different sectors for some of his policies. I didn't always approve of the result, but I'm more liberal than Bill. In Lavallee's eyes, Clinton's greatest sin was a modicum of success. By that standard we can be sure that President Bush is his hero.

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