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October 07, 2005

Why Oh Why Can't We Have Better Think Tanks? (Council on Foreign Relations Edition)

Mark Schmitt observes the Council on Foreign Relations flaking out:

TPMCafe || The Council on Foreign Relations Doesn't Get It : A press release has arrived from the Council on Foreign Relations: A new Council report shows that "the current climate of partisan politics is weakening American leadership." Seems about right to me. We've seen America's role in the world weakened by a war of choice supported by deception, we've had our fiscal position eroded by massive tax cuts for the wealthy that leave us at the mercy of our Asian creditors, we've sent John Bolton to represent us in the United Nations, etc. The report calls for "bipartisan foreign policy" and says "the United States should work with all--not half--of its collective foreign policy brain and talent if it is to maintain primacy in today's globalized world." Right on. I open the links in the e-mail eagerly. The Council on Foreign Relations has a lot of smart people, and they've probably got something useful to say about why this happened.

Indeed. The very first culprit identified in the rise of one-party foreign policy and the weakening of America is (drum roll, please):

The congressional schedule! Yes, that's it: "The jam-packed Tuesday-through-Thursday schedule for members of Congress".... The schedule isn't the only factor in the "complex variety of social, cultural, and technological changes" at work. Partisan redistricting... the incumbent advantage in campaign finance... blogs: "It has become part of the game to have a proffered policy and its sponsor trashed in the media and disparaged in the blogs before it receives any traction."

And here's one you probably didn't think of: Democrats... the narrowness of Republican control of the House... causes one-party rule, because "the tighter margin of control has given Democrats a reason to hope that they might win back majority status every two years."... "On the flipside, this narrow control also makes it imperative for the majority party, now the Republicans, to demand party loyality."... [T]he report is alleging that Republican leaders have no choice but to twist arms and break kneecaps as they did on CAFTA and Medicare -- because, after all, they are entitled to enact "the most controversial parts of their agenda" -- whereas Democrats have made a choice....

This is offensive stuff, and the empirical assumptions are all wrong.... Republicans did not cooperate in Democratic policy before 1994.... Tip O'Neill most certainly could not "afford" to allow dissent among Democrats. Democratic defections gave Reagan a working majority in Congress on the 1981 budget and tax bills and at many other points. O'Neill would have vastly preferred to lead a more disciplined opposition to Reagan....

This 47-page report on one-party rule in Congress somehow completely fails to mention:

  1. The abuse of conference committees to drive through legislation written by a small group controlled by one party.
  2. The use of closed rules in the House to prevent amendments.
  3. The explicit "majority of a majority" rule under which the Speaker of the House refuses to move legislation that has bipartisan majority support unless it has support of a majority of Republicans alone.
  4. The abuse of the budget reconciliation process to drive through policies that lack bipartisan support and cannot be amended.
  5. Tom DeLay, Dennis Hastert, Bill Frist, Roy Blunt, the K Street Project, the Medicare bill, lobbyists writing legislation, the role of the Iraq invasion in eroding U.S. influence in the world, John Bolton, CAFTA, the list goes on...

It's tempting to ascribe bad faith to the main author of the CFR report, who is identified as a former Washington Times reporter and House staffer. But the project had a bipartisan advisory council, and I choose to see it as another example of just not getting it.... As Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson write in their fabulous new book, Off-Center: The Republican Revolution & The Erosion of American Democracy, "the problem is not just polarization. It is unequal polarization -- unequal between Democrats and Republicans, unequal in its effects on the governing aims of liberals and conservatives, and unequal in in its effects on American society."

Posted by DeLong at October 7, 2005 01:11 PM