The host spent a good deal of this morning’s show complaining about the glacial speed at which tax reform is moving through Congress. His primary concern is that failure to pass the package in a timely fashion will result in the loss of Republican control of Congress. That is a reasonable assessment, but I think the issues go much deeper, and the stakes are much higher. I think our very social order is on the brink.
When Barack Obama was elected I comforted myself with his appointees; they were for the most part mainstream Democrats and I figured that they, combined with the job, would serve to moderate the newly minted president. But Obama proved to be a very hard-headed ideologue and a micro-manager and it was not long before those mainstream Democrats found service in the administration untenable and soon Obama was surrounded by very young, inexperienced sycophants. Soon after that we began to see convention and the constitution deformed to the very edges of recognizablity. Obamacare was passed by parliamentary legerdemain, and so much else was passed by regulatory overreach coupled with complete disregard for public sentiment. Either the rules no longer mattered, or were perverted in spirit to a point where they were meaningless. It grew so Orwellian that at times it was legitimately frightening.
Conservatives are by nature rule and convention followers. The Obama administration was more than policy with which conservatives disagreed – it was an assault on their sensibilities. The election of Donald Trump clearly signals that the respect for the rules and convention that has been fundamental to the right is eroding at a rapid pace. Conventional leadership paradigms would say that simply restoring “regular order” should restore confidence in the rules and convention. But that only works when regular order works. To date regular order is clearly NOT working.
Everybody has heard the reasons and excuses, but the fact remains that Congress has been unable to accomplish any major initiative – despite their “best” efforts. Regular order may be functioning, but it is unable to achieve results. Such serves only to further erode respect for the rules and convention. And that is what is at stake here.
The host seems to think that transparency will help stem the erosion of this socially necessary respect, but I don’t think so. The Obama administration eroded that respect to the point that only results can stem the tide. I have experienced way too many conversations that ended in ill-temper when I tried to explain the requirements of regular order to think that transparency will help much. People do not want to see regular order in action; they want to see regular order produce.
Conventions, rules and a constitution only matter when people believe they matter – which they will only do if people think they make life better. We cannot afford to have the nations faith in the efficaciousness of those institutions any further eroded. Hence I understand congressional hesitancy to return to the practices of the Obama administration, nor would I advise them to do so. What I will advise them to do is to make regular order work.
Like any great liturgical structure, over time regular order has become burdened with flourishes and excesses that in different times were important and meaningful but are now just so much dead weight. What is needed at this juncture is not the wholesale rejection of the liturgy that marked the Obama administration, but the delicate separating of the flourishes and excesses from the liturgy – restoring faith in the liturgy while also restoring its effectiveness.
Failing to do so will result in far more than simple policy stagnation – it will result in chaos.