Constitutional Conservatism or Progressivism, That is the Question

There is an excellent article at National Review Online that I would encourage you to read.  OK, it has some really big words and it is long, but I promise it’s worth it.  Consider it “homework” for the upcoming test in 2012.

For the most part Tea Party conservatives, in particular this conservative, thinks things like this should make us all sit up and take notice:

Liberal frustration has fallen into two general categories that seem at first to flatly contradict each other: denunciations of democracy and appeals to populism. In September, Peter Orszag, President Obama’s former budget director, wrote an essay in The New Republic arguing that “we need less democracy.” To address our country’s daunting problems, Orszag suggested, we need to take some power away from Congress and give it to “automatic policies and depoliticized commissions” that will be shielded from public pressure. “Radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic.” Two weeks later, North Carolina’s Democratic governor, Beverly Perdue, made a less sophisticated stab at the same general point, proposing to suspend congressional elections for a few years so members of Congress could make the difficult decisions necessary to get our country out of its deep problems.

If that does not frighten you think about it:  “Give power to automatic policies and depoliticized commissions that will be shielded from public pressure” assumes that commissions CAN be depoliticized.  As for “automatic policies,” WHO decides what those policies will be?  From my world view flawed human beings would be involved, so eliminating the checks and balances that were built into our system is a bad idea.  Gridlock serves a purpose.

Orszag and Perdue both seemed to channel a long and deeply held view of the Left — that the complexity of modern life and the intensity of modern politics should lead us to put more power in the hands of technical experts who have the knowledge to make objective, rational choices on our behalf. Leaving things to the political process will result only in delay and disorder. President Obama has frequently expressed this view himself — wistfully complaining to his aides earlier this year, for instance, that things would sure be easier if he were president of China.

Ahhh….technical experts, the elite, that’s who should call the shots. (NOTE: this is not violent rhetoric its an idiom.)  Technocrats!  That’s the answer to all of our problems, correct?  I refer you to an interesting article: Europe Ushers in Dictatorship of Technocrats to help make up your mind.

So what is a Tea Party Conservative?

But the Tea Party has been very unusual for an American populist movement. It has not been focused on soaking the rich, as left-wing populists always have been. It has not even been primarily focused on reducing the tax burden on the middle class, as right-wing populists usually are. Rather, the Tea Party has focused on restraining government. It originated in outrage about federal bailouts, and has directed its energies toward pulling back the cost and reach of the state. It has asked for fewer government giveaways, not more. It has even given voice to a tight-money populism, criticizing the Federal Reserve for inviting inflation — a far cry from populists of old. And the Tea Party has also been intensely focused on recovering the U.S. Constitution, and especially its limits on government power (and therefore on the public’s power) — another very unusual goal for a populist movement…..

…and what should the Tea Party do?

Populism as such does not define the proper response to the rise of technocratic administration, and cannot be the essence of the defense of our constitutional order against a resurging progressivism.

Technocracy and Populism: Two sides of the same Coin

The simultaneous populist and technocratic appeals of the progressives’ successors in today’s politics seem to echo this premise. They at least implicitly suggest that technocracy and populism are two sides of the same coin. 

And the framers of our Constitution seemed to think so too. But whereas the progressives championed both technocratic government and direct democracy, the Constitution stands opposed to both. As the framers saw it, both populist and technocratic politics were expressions of a modern hubris about the capacity of human beings — be it of the experts or of the people as a whole — to make just the right governing decisions. The Constitution is built upon a profound skepticism about the ability of any political arrangement to overcome the limitations of human reason and human nature, and so establishes a system of checks to prevent sudden large mistakes while enabling gradual changes supported by a broad and longstanding consensus. Experts should not govern, nor should the people do so directly, but rather the people’s representatives should govern in a system filled with mediating institutions and opposing interests — a system designed to force us to see problems and proposed solutions from a variety of angles simultaneously and, as Alexander Hamilton puts it in Federalist 73, “to increase the chances in favor of the community against the passing of bad laws through haste, inadvertence, or design.”

Remember, gridlock serves a purpose.

And, here, I believe, is the whole reason I’d like you to read this article in its entirity:

Thus expert omniscience could not be trusted to check the excesses of popular passion, and public omniscience could not be trusted to check the excesses of expert arrogance. In the view of the framers, there is no omniscience; there is only imperfect humanity. We therefore need checks on all of our various excesses, and a system that forces us to think through important decisions as best we can. This may well be the essential insight of our constitutional system: Since there is no perfection in human affairs, any system of government has to account for the permanent imperfections of the people who are both governing and governed, and this is best achieved through constitutional forms that compel self-restraint and enable self-correction.

There is only imperfect humanity.  There lies the difference in the two world views battling for the hearts and minds of our citizenry.  The Progressive world view sees man as perfectible.  Our founders, who adhered to a world view that said humans are flawed, and always will be flawed, wanted to set up a system that protected against the excesses of flawed human beings who were given too much power.

The Progressive world view has lead to some terrible “unintended consequences.”  Our founders were not perfect.  We are not perfect, but I believe our Constitutional Republic was set up to protect us from an elite who hold all the power.  Our  system can be messy and it is not perfect, but I believe that if we work to restore its integrity we can continue to protect our God-given rights.

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