By Shawn Mitchell
History didn’t end quite as soon as Francis Fukayama famously forecast. Every generation will face interesting times, it seems. But, David Brooks, the New York Times’ idea of a conservative, recently bid to team with Fukayama to seize a consolation prize.If you can’t end history, maybe you can end the American Constitutional order. That would be interesting, and pleasing to deep thinkers disappointed in Congress’s failure to pass a lot of awesome new laws.
Brooks doesn’t exactly say so, but trashing the Constitution is what he advocates in his modestly titled piece: “Strengthen the Presidency.” Brooks sensitively builds his case by sharing the wrenching plight of Congressional budget analysts who toil thanklessly to analyze the impact of lots of really good bills that somehow never get passed.
The pathos! “They work furiously hard to analyze the impact of bills — immigration reform, tax reform, entitlement reform and gun legislation — but almost none of these bills ever makes it into law. There’s all this effort, but no result.”So, Brooks asserts we’re in era of “reform stagnation.” Years might go by without big, new laws.
To explain the drought’s cause, Brooks cites Fukayama’s essay in the current issue of The American Interest, The Decay of American Institutions, which diagnoses increased polarization, too many interest groups and lobbyists, and expansive power grabs by courts that foster too much litigation, all of which have combined to shrink the influence of the executive branch.
It’s a neat bit of verbal alchemy to jump from congressional gridlock and then somehow land at a hogtied presidency, but Brooks and Fukayama are agile enough to pull it off. Brooks has just the solution: Pump up the presidency! Expand its powers! Not because we necessarily trust the executive, but because we’re better off when the president is stronger than outside interest groups that “capture” Congress. Brooks must rank that insight as among nature’s self evident truths, because he leaves it mostly undeveloped.
Brooks argues the executive could forge solutions on things like immigration reform (and presumably the rest of his litany of tragically unpassed bills) that Congress is just too polarized to tackle. Further, he’s enthused that executive staffs are usually more expert than congressional staffs, and more insulated from the groups that do tawdry things like try to petition government.
The way out our reform wilderness, Brooks declares, is giving more policy making authority—“legislative power” in the Founders’ quaint parlance-- and administrative “flexibility” to the executive branch.
At this point, anyone who occupies the real world rather than an elite faculty lounge or Gray Lady Editorial suite should be choking. What universe is Brooks describing? Since when is the US president bound and hobbled from faithfully executing the law? For that matter, how is this president even hindered from making the law up?
One of the president’s first acts, in the name of stimulating the economy, was to rain down nearly a trillion dollars on his pets and friends in all levels of government and all stripes of left-wing activism. The Left is obscenely funded for a generation.
When Chrysler and General Motors crawled kneeling to Washington with cupped hands, the president decided he’d really rather the UAW keep its generous packages and get awarded billions in equity ahead of the secured creditors and fund investors. He ignored the law and made his leftist will happen.
When disaster struck the Gulf in the BP oil spill, the president didn’t rely on his crack environmental regulators and federal courts to administer the law and award compensation. He wrote a new script, demanded a $20 billion down payment from BP for a compensation fund, and made up the remedial program as we went.
When voters slapped the president back and put the other party in charge of the US House, this administration quickly pivoted (the only real pivot he ever executed) to achieving rule by regulation, crafting sweeping attacks on carbon, coal, American energy, and, it now appears, any property owners with mud on their land, vital wetland habitat, don’t you know?Navigable interstate waters, to be sure!
When Congress passed Obamacare, the Constitution’s First Branch did not so much codify a health plan as toss a two-thousand page invitation to the administration to draft tens of thousands of pages of regulations with the actual substance and details. Now, the president has demonstrated his belief—backed up by action—that he can alter and ignore whatever parts of the statutory law he wants for as long and whatever reason he wants.
Then there’s the sinister, unAmerican face of this president’s executive latitude. Audits of critics and activists by the IRS and other agencies. Mysterious paramilitary raids on companies like Gibson guitar. Targeted harassment and stonewalling nonprofit applications by conservative groups. Frivolous investigations and lawsuits by Eric Holder’s Justice Department against companies, states, schools, anyone or anything that displeases the administration or its leftist allies. The unscripted confession by the EPA administrator his agency subscribes to ancient Rome’s strategy of a few exemplary crucifixions to keep the locals in line. New IRS rules to knoc
This all adds up to an exceedingly strange time for Brooks to conclude that because Congress doesn’t pass the shiny new laws he and Fukayama might favor, we should give up on separation of powers, checks and balances, and the creaky, old Constitution that made America the most successful nation in the known universe. Instead, we should vest domestic rule in an exalted executive.
Brooks might learn something from the honest liberal law professor. Jonathon Turley recently testified to Congress this president has become “the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid.”
Brooks doesn’t care. He was never much a conservative. Now, he’s exposed himself as not much of a constitutional democrat. RIP Mr. Madison.
By Daniel J. Mitchell
I sometimes get irked when I read columns by David Brooks. He’s sort of the token Republican at the New York Times, so he has a very important perch that could be used to educate an important audience about the harmful impact of excessive government.
And Brooks often does a good job of highlighting important and worrisome social trends, but what rubs me the wrong way is that he frequently thinks the right answer is to give government even more power.
He wrote a column back in 2011, for instance, that nailed the problem of growing dependency and declining workforce participation. But then he proposed more government intervention.
And he correctly worried about the social costs of family instability in 2012, but then bizarrely decided that the right response was subsidies to make men more marriageable.
So it won’t come as much of a surprise that I’m perplexed by his reasoning in a new column on executive branch power. He starts with an observation that is true.
We’re in a period of reform stagnation. It’s possible that years will go by without the passage of a major piece of legislation.
But he thinks this is unfortunate, while I view government inaction as a positive development. Simply stated, most new laws lead to bigger government and less freedom.
Anyhow, Brooks is unhappy and he thinks the problem is too many interest groups.
…there is the profusion of interest groups. In 1971, there were 175 registered lobbying firms. By 2009, there were 13,700 lobbyists spending more than $3.5 billion annually, and this doesn’t even count the much larger cloud of activist groups and ideological enforcers.
He’s right that there has been an explosion in the number of lobbyists and interest groups, but his analysis is backwards.
We have lots of influence peddlers because we have a big, sclerotic government, not the other way around.
If Brooks really wants to clean out the stables in Washington, he should support a radical reduction in the size and scope of the federal government.
But you won’t be surprised that he comes to a different conclusion.
Things would be better…if we had a more unified parliamentary system, with more administrative discretion. But we don’t. “So we have a problem.” …there is a way out: Make the executive branch more powerful.
The comment about a parliamentary system is rather strange. If evidence mattered in this discussion, shouldn’t there be some explanation of why a parliamentary system was better than America’s separation-of-powers approach?
My guess, based on the mess in Europe, is that the evidence is in the other direction.
But that’s a side issue. The main point Brooks is making is that the Presidency should have more discretionary power.
This post was modified from its original form on 16 Dec, 6:04
Amazingly, he even cites the pervasive problems with Obamacare as a reason to augment the power of the White House!
This is a good moment to advocate greater executive branch power because we’ve just seen a monumental example of executive branch incompetence: the botched Obamacare rollout. … it is possible to mobilize the executive branch to come to policy conclusion on something like immigration reform. It’s nearly impossible for Congress to lead us to a conclusion about anything. …So how do you energize the executive? It’s a good idea to be tolerant of executive branch power grabs and to give agencies flexibility. …We need more unified authority. …Allow people in those authorities to exercise discretion.
Wow, those are some rather incredible assertions. Brooks is basically arguing against democracy and against the system of separation of powers created by the Founders.
And the corrupt use of discretion as part of Obamacare is hardly what I would call a positive argument for his position.
And what’s really ironic is that Brooks had a very good column on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back in 2011 that showed how unchecked discretionary power led to an economic crisis.
Mark Steyn has a much more logical analysis on this topic, writing that you’re much more likely to have competent government when you limit the power of Washington.
But since Brooks actually tried to equate Reagan’s small-government conservatism with Bush’s so-called compassionate conservatism, we shouldn’t be surprised he errs in other ways as well.
Mr. Brooks could not make it any more clear; this is the main issue with the media today, they have no interest in nor desire to further the very fundamental aspects of the Constitution and what makes this Country great. I am not sure that we can even label them socialists and leave it there, this is much deeper. They want a completely different form of government, one that borders more on Marxist/Communist form of government. One where all the power rests on one man or a small group of men as it does in the communist countries.
Everything inside me screems "NO" as to do this would be the absolute worst thing that the people of this Country could allow. There is a system of checks and balances in place to prevent this very thing. The first thing that came to mind was "Absolute power corrupts absolutely" and that is so true; look at the history of Russia, China, and any other communist country. Look at what the living conditions are like not only in a communist country but also in a country run by a dictator such as Cuba, and others.
When you compare these countries with the United States there is no question which represents the people the best. We can also look at some of the countries with a monarchy and see that they have eventually incorporated a system where there is a elected group that prepared the laws and represents the people. Even they realize that the power cannot rest on the head of one person, it didn't work for them either.
How can this man come to the conclusions he has reached without looking at the rest of the world and see that what he proposes does not work, never will work and it the worst solution.
Does he not realize that he represents one of the biggest problems for why the United States is where they are presently; when the media becomes so infleuntial in the election process they become as bad or worse than special interest groups. They also influence the manner in which the congressmen/women are perceived by the public and can make or break their political career and influence whether they are elected or re-elected; much of the time twisting the true facts to their own agenda.
The difference between the special interest groups and the media is that the media has the ability to reach every voter where they are at; special interst groups don't have the kind of ability to influence elections or re-elections and therefore less real power over the politician in the long run. And the media does this under the guise of "freedom of speech".
So, taking Mr. Brooks arguments, would it not seem that we need to regulate and restrict their influence. Maybe the news reports that they give should be monitored and prepared by a government agency that does so impartially the way journalism should be presented to the public. It would be very interesting to see what happens when they no longer have the far-reaching influence that they have. Mr. Brooks, to you I would say this ia a very real and first step that we should take as a Country before we give the president any more power. In fact, what we need to do in that regard is find a better way to deal with a president that does not follow the Constitutional rules for his position as president and to make sure we don't have a president that does this sort of activity in the future.
Brrooks is an idiot, a closet "progressive", and one of many in DC and the Coastal Elite Class that loves intrusive and incompetent big government to make sure things are "fair", "compassionate", "just", or what other delusion they are suffering under for a specific issue, program. etc at the time. Like most in the government these people are frequently clueless at to the true facts, how things really operate, or the effects these programs have on the regular law abiding/responsible/productive citizen since the exist in their on littlle "progressive" elitist bubble. I've seen that even among alleged "conservatives" and those who claim to have the "facts" on some of the Fox News panels and anchor like O'Rielly and Hanniety who have zero clue how the health insurance market and health care delivery operated prior to the disaster called the "Patient Protection and Affordable Heath Care" Act was inflicted on us cheered on in part with the likes of Brooks or the Mid East foreign policy disasters cheered on by the like of McManic and the Weekly Standard crowd. They like the RINOs in political office are as much part of the problem as Dear Leader Obama and his Demagogues and "progressive" media/academic/union/think tank/etc supporters! In their abject ignorance they think they are "smarter' than the rest of us.
Whenever we see Brooks discuss issues with Shields on the PBS Newshour on Fridays, we always wonder aloud when they're going to have both a Republican and Democrat debating the issues instead of two Democrats. He and Shields agree on a lot. Brooks is, as John pointed out, a closet "progressive" (or a token (pseudo) Republican at the NYTimes or a RINO (sorry, Tara Jane, I know you dislike the term). I am not altogether shocked by David Brooks' opinions. This is only one example of what a fool he is.