Tuesday, June 14, 2011
David Brooks's incomplete Hamiltonianism
David Brooks has an interesting column in today's Times berating both political parties for forsaking what he calls Hamiltonian "national greatness" policies. Along the way, he refers to "ouor dysfunctional political system." Needless to say, he nowhere suggests that that political system is at all traceable to the Constitution that Hamilton so notably defended (sincerely or not) in The Federalist. Consider, though, that Hamiltonwas was savagely critical of the political system created by the Articles of Confederation (see, e.g., Federalist #15). I believe that he once referred to the existing American political system in 1787 as "imbecilic." He believed, probably correctly, that "national greatness" of any kind, including the basic ability to create a military that could defend us from adversaries, was impossible under that system, and it needed immediate replacement. One need not argue that the Constitution is as bad as the Articles (though it's closer than most people think) in order to believe that Brooks and other pundits who so regularly write about the "dysfunctionalities" of our present political order might profit from actually thinking about the Constitution and, concomitantly, about possible changes.
I'm a long way from informed to make any useful comment on the substance of this but thanks for the interesting, new, "unblinking seriousness" test!
Brooks is best read for the confusion he puts forth. What exactly does "Hamiltonian/National Greatness perspective" mean anyway? The suggestion seems to mean that they are sides of the same coin. Are there other "National Greatness perspectives" like a Madisonian/NGP?
Madison in his veto message regarding the national bank respected "experience." This includes development of the specific application of constitutional provisions.
But, the issues are complex. Some disagree with you that it is an over worship of the Constitution that is the problem.
It is not "Constitution veneration" as such that opposes certain applications (the filibuster as applied is not compelled by the Constitution) or expect the level of change you desire is either dangerous or unlikely at the moment.
Hamilton after all even then felt much more should have been done and his brand of Federalism (capital "f") soon died off. The opposition to change has been around for quite some time. It is right there in the Declaration of Independence, talking about all that we can bear before change comes. Things are even more enmeshed now.
David Brooks in his University of Chicago days was well aware of the elephant in the room with his paper deriding Bill Buckley, Jr.s movement. Alas, Buckley co-opted Brooks with a job on his National Review. I guess personal economics got Brooks to ride the elephant. It should be noted that fellow NYTimes op-eder Paul Krugman does not step back from criticizing Brooks' support of Rep. Ryan's economics.
(Hopefully the Hamilton reference in this post will not serve to restart the grilling of Anthony W.)
Krugman is in fact no better than Brooks with regard to the "elephant" of the Constitution, even if he is almost infinitely better re his understanding of the deficiencies of the Ryan budget.
Sandy's elephant in the room (the Constitution) perhaps is treated more like a pinata. It has been beaten on for most of its existence yet it survives. Some say it has been lost and requires restoring. A few seek to rehab a certain Court decision in shameless huckstering of a new book. A few see redemption. Sandy seems to want to add to these three-Rs (Restoring, Rehabbing, Redemption) a fourth-R - Rewriting. But the process of a constitutional convention would most likely be messy, especially if the Rewrite is accomplished in a democratic manner as noted in another post at this Blog. While I have long been an admirer of the Uniforms Laws approach, the Constitution has been so politicized I have no confidence that we can rely upon constitutional scholars/experts to come up with an appropriate Rewrite. It's gotten to the point of Genesis and its Original Sin interpretation by fundamentalists (and others). Maybe, just maybe, the pinata beaters should take off their blindfolds and recognize that it might just be the men, not so much the laws, that are the problem.
As for Sandy's comment on Krugman, who is an economist who sticks to his last, I am not aware that Krugman considers the elephant in the room to be the Constitution but rather the GOP that does not want the economy to recover for obvious reasons (pointing out that President Obama is not yet effectively challenging the GOP on this). I mentioned Krugman in an earlier comment only for the purpose of demonstrating that he, despite being an op-ed colleague, remonstrates Brooks from time to time on economic issues. I have no idea how Krugman might respond to an inquiry by Sandy on the impact of the Constitution on the economic mess we're in.
One has "no idea" about Krugman's response because he has never connected the dots himself about the relationship between our constitutional order and our malaise. Instead, he prefers to focus on perfidious Republicans and splineless Democrats, both of which might be true, of course, but a limited view of why it is perfectly rational for Mitch McConnell to behave as he does and for Democrats to refrain from getting into poltical fights that, under the rules, they cannot win.
It's a tad overreaching to suggest that an economist, even a Nobelist, should be able to connect these dots. While Krugman recognizes the political tactics of McConnell et al, it is difficult enough for Krugman to address the economics without being accused of drifting into an area in which he may lack expertise. The dots should be connected with the aid of Sandy and other constitutional scholars. Sandy has been making a case, but he doesn't seem to be joined by other such scholars. Of course, Sandy should keep up the fight on the constitutional reform side, so that others may eventually join him, keeping in mind that Krugman is challenged at every turn as "shrill" and he is supported by only a few. But Krugman is relentless. For those who only read his NYTimes columns on Mondays and Fridays, they are missing his blog at the Times in which he is constantly doing battle, with facts and figures.
The Arts section of yesterday's (6/15/11) NYTimes has an interesting article by Patricia Cohen (page 1) titled "People Argue Just to Win, Scholars Assert" addressing cognitive issues that David Brooks has been discussing in his columns for the past year or so as well as in his new book. The article includes references to the legal profession and politics. Perhaps Brooks may pick up on the work of the scholars. As I read the article, I thought of the positions taken by constitutional scholars on the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Here's an excerpt from Cohen's article that might entice readers:
"Think of the American Judicial system, in which the prosecutors and defense lawyers each have a mission to construct the strongest possible argument. The belief is that this process will reveal the truth, just as the best idea will triumph in what John Stuart Mill called the 'marketplace of ideas.'"
I don't personally believe that the truth is actually produced by the system. But, like in horseshoes, close enough wins. But is winning everything?
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