The article chosen for this extra-credit assignment was “Government’s End” by Jonathan Rausch. Mr. Rausch’s main theme seems to be that American government, in its current form, is slowly succumbing to a "cancer". This cancer consists of innumerable special interest groups and their lobbyists who have virtually unlimited supplies of money to prevent legislation from being enacted, and (perhaps worse) to prevent legislation from being rationally adjusted or eliminated when appropriate. While it may be true that the “founding fathers” of the United States wanted the legislative process to be slow and deliberate, in order that laws might be given thorough and thoughtful consideration before being enacted, Mr. Rausch describes (in this article) a government that has become an immutable behemoth that has apparently become an institution that Rausch fears has passed the point where it can no longer positively evolve beyond its current ineffectual state.
What (to me) is most ironic is that Rausch wrote this article approximately fourteen years ago when things were presumably better, in this regard, than they are now! In other words, it’s a bit like reading Orwell’s “1984” in 2014 and realizing the extent to which Orwell’s insights had proven to be accurate. The partisan gridlock that our country is currently “enjoying” seems even more intractable than Rausch describes in his article. The thing that bothers me the most about this article is that Rausch almost seems to be throwing up his arms in desperation, while offering no hints of possible solutions to the mess our government is in.
In his Federalist Paper # 10, written in 1787, James Madison opined that special interests, or “factions”, were dangerous to a democracy, and went on to assert that the only effective restraint to the power of factions was by “extending the sphere”, or bringing as many people and interests into the country as possible. He thought that by so, it would be harder for a faction to have a common reason to oppress others and, if such a majority faction did manage to form, it would be harder for them to act as one in order to oppress others. What Madison seemed unable to fully grasp at the time was that special interests would evolve and combine into collective groups that share a generalized self-interest, such as the corporate lobby, the military-industrial complex, major unions such as the teacher’s union, the banking lobby, etc. that would grow to control many, if not most, aspects of government, with relatively few exceptions. Rausch apparently feels that government has become an enormous entity that is controlled by interest groups and not by the people who have elected representatives to accomplish a number of specific goals. In other words, Rausch feels that we now have government by special-interest and money, and not government by the policy-makers we elected to get the things done that we sent them to Washington to accomplish.
Rausch supports his main theme by citing a number of examples where the attempts of well-meaning politicians to enact progressive legislation were stymied by the intractability of American government in its current form, such as President Clinton’s attempts to reform healthcare and efforts by David Stockman (President Reagan's budget director) to help pass legislation to make relatively modest reforms to Social Security. One prominent example Rausch discusses in this article is Newt Gingrich's effort to force Congress to pass a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, including a limit on tax increases. Like Clinton and Stockman, Gingrich’s efforts were also doomed to failure in the end.
In short, Rausch’s article brings our attention to the difficulty of reforming government in order to combat the problems it faces. The difficulty of this task is mirrored in Chapter 12 of our Bardes' text, wherein the difficulty of reforming government bureaucracy…