Thursday, October 28, 2010

Re-Reinventing Government

Yesterday, contemplating Paul Krugman’s fiscal policy prescriptions, I wondered whether liberal governance is starting to exceed our institutional capacities. I was thinking of that primarily as a matter of public policy, suggesting that liberals should consider rethinking their policy agenda in light of a more realistic appraisal of how congressional decision-making really works. But the issue of governmental dysfunction has an important political dimension as well.

Here’s the new hero of the Republican right, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, making political hay out of the disparity between the promise and the performance of government in a blue state:

That’s a potent political message, expertly delivered. But why should it be exclusively a Republican message?

In a comment to the above-referenced post, reader Uncle Albert, reminds us that Bill Clinton spent a lot of political capital in the 1990s trying to persuade voters that he was “reinventing government.” At most, he succeeded in modestly streamlining a few executive agencies. There’s only so much a president can do in this connection when the governmental institution that stands most urgently in need of reinvention, Congress, is a coequal branch of government.

But "reinventing government" was still a shrewd political message for Clinton to transmit. Liberal politicians, of all people, should be reassuring voters that the government is working hard on what’s important, that Democratic congressmen know what’s in the bills that they’re passing and have thought long and hard about whether they’ll work. I don’t think you can overestimate how much doubts on this score are costing Democrats politically in this election cycle and the political price they’ll continuing paying as long as they surrender these issues to the Republicans.

If you ask me, now that he’s likely to be confronting a Republican House and will have less of a stake in soothing the egos of powerful congressional Democrats, Obama should open shop in the "reinventing government" business himself.

1 comment:

DannyP said...

You can't be reinventing government when you're inventing new regulatorty regimes like the Affordable Care Act and the Financial Reform bill. Obama's fate is tied to those inventions.