US Policy Changes Vol.47 (Miscellaneous Vol.5 – political dysfunction)

Here is an article on political dysfunction: TWENTIETH-CENTURY REMEDIES (PDF; 2014) | STEPHEN SKOWRONEK @Yale @BU_Law,@BULawReview. Excerpt is on our own.

American history shows us that when governmental processes appear to break down, old institutions can be redeployed to operate in new ways, and new institutions can be built around them to reorient the work of the whole.
In the early years of the twentieth century, reformers overcame widespread fears of governmental dysfunction by redeploying the presidency; their solutions to the newly emergent problems of governing under the Constitution worked around new conceptions of presidential leadership. …

INTRODUCTION
Political dysfunction is not a new concern. …
The progressives responded to the crisis of governability in their day by redeploying the institutions embedded in the constitutional framework, especially the presidency. …
In recent years, much has been made of the misalignment of institutional forms and reform aspirations that followed in the wake of the progressive turn. …
… The question is whether we should expect any remedy improvised pragmatically in midstream to suffice indefinitely. … One model cast the President as an agent of democratic transformation, a leader who could be counted upon periodically to break through the knot of interests protected by the Constitution, thereby opening the government to new possibilities and revitalizing the political system at large. The other model cast the President as a policy entrepreneur, a political facilitator who would bring together actors across dispersed and relatively independent institutions to orchestrate timely responses to national problems as they arose. …
…undertaken simultaneously, for example, during the New Deal and the Great Society. But facilitating policy is not the same thing as transforming the polity. …
… Obama came to the presidency steeped in the progressive tradition, and his rise to power joined together the progressives’ twin aspirations for political leadership. …

I. COMPETING ASPIRATIONS FOR A PROGRESSIVE PRESIDENCY
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the progressive historian Henry Jones Ford described presidential leadership as “the work of the people, breaking through the constitutional form.” Ford perceived a paradox in the Constitution’s framing. The Framers fashioned the presidency as a conservative counterweight to congressional impulsiveness but, by worrying so much about the power of Congress, they inadvertently constructed an institution able to deploy itself to achieve purposes far more unsettling than the congressional purposes the Framers initially feared. Ford extrapolated from the examples of Presidents Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, suggesting that the two apparent anomalies of presidential leadership in the nineteenth century were similar to one another, and that their similarities might serve as a model for democratic transformation in the twentieth century.
… During the New Deal Era, President Franklin D. Roosevelt exemplified Ford’s theory of presidential power, and the promise of presidentially led political breakthroughs imprinted itself indelibly on the American imagination. … Faith in the presidency’s regenerative capacity was revived at the end of the twentieth century in agitation on behalf of a Reagan “Revolution.” President Obama himself nodded to the Reagan Administration’s exemplification of reconstructive leadership. …
… Jackson’s destruction of the National Bank and Lincoln’s eradication of slavery eliminated the institutions that supported the old governing elite. Opening the government to previously excluded interests and concerns, and changing the trajectory of affairs, hinged on outright repudiation of a prior constitutional settlement. …
… President Roosevelt railed against intransigent justices and economic royalists in the old Jacksonian style, but beyond that, the parallels were already beginning to strain. Unlike Jackson or Lincoln, Roosevelt could not get rid of the institutions against which he arrayed himself. …and in his efforts to set the terms for their incorporation into his new order… he repeatedly went down to defeat. …
… Government is rearranged and reoriented by breaking up the infrastructure that supports the politics of the past. Renewal is achieved by cutting deeply enough through extant arrangements of government to reset the standards of legitimate national action. Dysfunction is resolved by restructuring the government’s basic mode of operations and installing within those operations a new common sense about the government’s purposes. …
… The Affordable Care Act of 201025 (ACA) is rightly considered a historic achievement, but threading the needle on healthcare reform has also become emblematic of the distinction I am drawing, the distinction between negotiating a policy fix for a pressing national problem and releasing the government from ingrained constraints. …

II. PRESIDENT OBAMA’S CHOICE
… But notwithstanding the alignment of so many of the trappings of a presidentially led political reconstruction, President Obama, even more than President Reagan, shied away from any attempt at ground clearing. …
… Obama perceived this new reality – the reality that, for all intents and purposes, the interdependence of interests has rendered the reconstructive option counterproductive, that the value of “ruthless pragmatism” has supplanted the value of resolute insurgency, that we were “all in this together.”
…twentieth-century government was built on the counsels of rationality and managerial responsibility, …respect for these siren songs preempts a fundamental redirection of affairs. …
With the insurgents’ rejection of collaboration and cooperation, the objectives of presidential leadership in the problem-solving mode have grown even murkier. President Obama, with his initiatives blocked on all fronts, has begun to match his opponents’ resistance by stiffening his own repudiative posture. His second term appears to be devoted to stigmatizing conservative intransigence as irrational and untenable, thereby abetting the insurgency’s implosion. In this, Obama has crystallized a new, curiously defensive form of progressivism. …

CONCLUSION
…the frustration of transformative ambitions appears to have deepened the cultural appeal of the reconstructive ideal, even as that appeal is being registered in increasingly wild and dangerous delusions. Barack Obama may be correct that, as a practical matter, threading the policy needle is the best a President today has to offer, but he stretches to convince us that a new, more vital regime can be created without action aimed directly at the institutional structure of interest representation. …
… What we face today is the exhaustion of an old remedy. … The question to be confronted today is whether the mechanisms upon which we have relied historically for negotiating transitions are still effective and whether they still portend a reasonable resolution of the challenges we face. …
If the goal is to renew American government once again, faith in the presidency appears unlikely to suffice. The reformers of the twentieth century should instruct us by example, not by prescription. The challenge is to do again what they did: to conjure some new mechanism for working through dysfunction and to reconfigure our institutions so as to bypass the limitations of the old.