Toward civility

The outgoing chair of the House Intelligence Committee claims the right to gag members of the minority staff. Incoming chairs should take note, and copy. Turnabout is fair play.

All agree that the Democrats now controlling the House and Senate must be, or at least appear, civil, collegial, and bipartisan. It would also be useful at the same time to minimize the power of the Republican minority and its corrupt paymasters to obstruct legislation &#8212 or, for that matter, to influence legislation in any way whatever &#8212 and prevent that minority from having its voice heard in the media. Moreover, Democrats should make the experience of being in the minority as miserable as possible, in order to encourage retirement, or, better yet, party-switching.

A casual or thoughtless observer might think these to be mutually inconsistent goals. But that is not the case.

Surely nothing is more civil than flattery, of which imitation is well-known to be the sincerest form. So the Democrats should imitate the Republicans &#8212 not, let it be hoped, in taking bribes or committing extortion, not in neglecting the public interest, and not in stirring up domestic hatred in the face of the common enemey &#8212 but in maltreating the minority party.

For example, according to the outgoing Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, the committee chair has the authority to forbid not only his own staff members but also members of the minority staff from communicating with the press. I hadn’t known that, but I’m delighted to learn it. Every incoming committee chair should be equally delighted, and should be careful to flatter Chairman Hoekstra by imposing an identical rule.

However, since Democrats are not Republicans, our committee chairs should refrain from taking drastic adverse employment actions against members of the minority staff based on nothing but supposition. That, in the immortal words of Richard Nixon, would be wrong.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

13 thoughts on “Toward civility”

  1. Since youare proposing a single party system for the US, could you explain how the US would operate under such a system. Is the District of Columbia that does not have a functioning Republican party an example that you propose for the US. Or maybe Mass or Chicago?

  2. The Republicans can never be the Democrats because the Republicans do not have demographic groups like blacks, Hispanics, and Jews that will vote for them no matter what.
    All of the Republican powerplays got them to the point of spliting the country 50/50.
    If the Democrats go ahead with their agenda, there will just be a shell of the Republicans left to pay the taxes and to act as a foil to the Democrats (see Mass.) People who want smaller government in Mass. have no impact. Thus, thos limited government people have to vote with their feet by moving to another state.
    The problem is not with the Republicans because by their nature they are a minority party but that the system prevents other parties from starting. I suspect that as political election become as irrelevent as the Republican party will become that corrupt and graft will replace political activism.

  3. We know the Republicans do not learn from the good example of others and that they are immune to any sort of empathy with those who are vulnerable. The tack you propose may prove enlightening for them. If it brought them to propose that NO ONE should act that way, then we will have achieved something. As it is, the current rule is, it's ok for Republicans to do this. Forbearance by Dems will in no way impact that "principle."

  4. It is insulting to blacks, Hispanics, and Jews to say, as Superdestroyer does, that they will vote for Democrats no matter what. They will vote for them only as long as they continue to be better than Republicans.

  5. It is insulting to blacks, Hispanics, and Jews to say, as Superdestroyer does, that they will vote for Democrats no matter what. They will vote for them only as long as they continue to be better than Republicans.

  6. I'd add a couple of areas in which the Democrats should NOT imitate the Republicans – because though not legally corrupt, they are among the things that lead to bribe taking and extortions. The Democrats should NOT:
    1) Report bills out of conference committee that differ drastically from both the House and Senate versions. The exception could be numerical limits and monetary amounts; but this exception should be limited to numbers that fall between the numbers in the House and Senate version.
    2)Send bills to the floor for a full vote without time for individual legislators or their staff, others they trust to read and analyze the legislation. In short legislators should not be forced to vote on bills based upon blindly taking the word of the leadership as to their content.
    3) If formal debate about a bill or treaty is to be drastically limited, then more time should be allowed between its release and the time it comes to the floor, so a legislator may be fully informed before a foreshortened debate takes place.

  7. To some degree, I want the Republicans to feel what its like to be on the minority end of congressional and senate power. Democrats should serve with class and distinction. I refuse to support a Party that has done what the Republicans have done to our Democracy.
    With our acquired congressional power advantage, it may appear the Democrats moved the rubber stamped Republicans aside to claim the title of the bipartisan rubber stamped Party. This is Simple: no change, no difference in political ideology. The Democrats will be on the 2008 express train to powerlessness.
    The Democrats have a unique task ahead of them. They must honor what they were put in office to do. At the same time, they must restore balance and voter confidence.
    2008 is just around the corner, so the Democrats must remain in a building mode. It's all a frame of mind. We must become a stronger Party, so this country will never have to experience the kind of imbalance afforded us in the last 5 years.
    Joseph

  8. The only thing that has sustained civility in the past has been the volatility of political majorities. In other words, don't abolish the filibuster because you might need it in the future. The Republicans felt they could become uncivil and abuse the Democrats because demographic factors were working in their favor, and their constituencies were trending towards permanent majority status.
    Of course, this kind of political millenialism is foolish, as it is far easier for a political party to redefine what it supports than for demographic change to occur. This would amount, however, to ideological capitulation and is highly undesireable from the perspective of both parties. And in the interim between realignment, a dominant party can enact much of its agenda, such as the Radical Republicans of the Civil War and the New Deal Democrats.
    In this regard, the Republicans do seem to be doing a better job than the Democrats in reading the demographic tea leaves, given that they are actively worrying about their biggest liability (Hispanics), although the Southern war on libertarians and the nascent economic populism also threaten GOP tallies. The Democrats, however, seem unconcerned with some worrying trends for their own coalition, mainly the liberal-conservative birth deficit, the perpetually anemic economic performance of blue states which causes electoral college migration, and – I think, most critically – the ticking time bomb that is school vouchers.
    So in short, the Democrats should tread lightly. The country is very much still evenly divided and the public is skeptical of both parties. Revenge may be sweet in the near term, but it would be punished by voters in the long term.

  9. No more "rare" red meat. The citizens are getting really fed up with this baiting just to see the beast rise again. This country has the mind of a "2 year old" – the leftbrain/rightbrain are starting to connect, and those tantrums and moodswings are enough to drive you crrrazy.
    Dems need to stick to good, professional business practices and let the dominoes fall where they may.
    "Busy Bee!"
    Prime example of good Democratic work ethics:
    Leon Panetta
    http://www.panettainstitute.org/

  10. To some degree, I want the Republicans to feel what its like to be on the minority end of congressional and senate power. Democrats should serve with class and distinction. I refuse to support a Party that has done what the Republicans have done to our Democracy.
    With our acquired congressional power advantage, it may appear the Democrats moved the rubber stamped Republicans aside to claim the title of the bipartisan rubber stamped Party. This is Simple: no change, no difference in political ideology. The Democrats will be on the 2008 express train to powerlessness.
    The Democrats have a unique task ahead of them. They must honor what they were put in office to do. At the same time, they must restore balance and voter confidence.
    2008 is just around the corner, so the Democrats must remain in a building mode. It’s all a frame of mind. We must become a stronger Party, so this country will never have to experience the kind of imbalance afforded us in the last 5 years.
    Joseph

  11. Jack,
    Actually the Democratic strategic planner have read the tea leaves and know that in the long run they are going to dominate. That is why they support open border, easy citizenship, and the non-identification of voters. In the politics in the US will more and more resemble the politics of California.
    I think the Democrats know that the number of liberal white middle class voters is shrinking and had thus given up trying to appeal to them.
    The real question will be how will a Democratic party function with white, private school educated elites that are overly jewish run a party that depends of blacks and hispanics for most of their support. If Washington, DC is any indication, it leaves little hope for the middle class.

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