Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"reinventing government"

Sandy Levinson

Jonathan Mahler has an interesting profile of New York Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo in this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Apparently one of his mantras is the need to "reinvent government," a theme that was, of course, very popular during the Clinton Administration and articulated especially by Al Gore. But the 800-pound gorillas, for anyone who takes the notion seriously, are obviously the respective constitutions of the United States and New York. How can one have a serious conversation about "reinventing government" without broaching the desirability of serious constitutional change? Rick Lazio, the Republican candidate, had actually tossed out the idea of eliminating the New York Senate, which would, obviousy, require a major amendment of the New York constitution. Since it is literally unthinkable that members of the New York Senate would vote themsevlves out of cushy jobs, it would also require a constitutional convention, which the New York Constitution (unlike the United States Constitution) allows the electorate to call. (There is no procedure in New York for initiative and referendum.) The Times, unfortunately, is opposed to such a convention, even as it has called on the electorate in effect to vote "all the bums" out of the Senate and start afresh. The head of New York's "Common Cause" has a good letter opposing the Times editorial.

Unfortunately, Lazio (a long-shot in any case) has chosen to demagogue the Lower Manhattan mosque rather than press what "reinventing government" might really require. That's a shame.
And, of course, even as polls show increasing contempt for Congress (and for both parties), no "serious person" suggests that the fault may be less in the personal defects of Mitch McConnell than in a constitutional system (including the provision that allows the Senate seeming carte blanche to pass its own rules, including the filibuster) that allows McConnell, who is behaving entirely as "rational-choice" political scientists would predict, to obstruct, obstruct, obstruct.

Indeed, given that there is a possibility (though I think slim) that Republicans could get the Senate back in November (or, more precisely, January), this is the pefect time for the President of the Senate, Joe Biden, to announce that he will rule, when the new Senate convenes, that the Senate is not a continuing body and can therefore change its filibuster rule by a simply majority vote. So if the Republicans benefit, so be it. (So long as the filibuster rule is in place, there's certainly no reason for the Democrats to engage in "unilateral disarmament," should they be in the minority. The point is to get rid of it--or at least significantly modify it--for both parties.)



I doubt Andrew Cuomo has the anti-establishment chops to really "reinvent government."

It's nice Lazio tossed a possibly good pie in the sky idea out there, but it might have received more traction if he made more of it than having a debate about an Islamic Center in downtown Manhattan.

"it is literally unthinkable that members of the New York Senate would vote themselves out of cushy jobs"

You think it is literally unthinkable? Really? The idea can be mentioned in a blog post and yet it is "literally" unthinkable?

This comment has been removed by the author.

Modicum, I appreciate your zeal, but can't the verb "to think" be used in the sense of "to believe"?

Example 1: I think it will rain today.

Example 2: I think members of the New York Senate would vote themselves out of cushy jobs.

If no one could possibly believe that that would happen, the idea would indeed be "literally unthinkable."

Don't take the use of 'literally' so literally!

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