Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 30, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

IN PRAISE OF COMPLEXITY....Marc Schmitt suggests that complex, screwy legislation such as No Child Left Behind and the recent Medicare bill is part of a semi-deliberate policy by the White House. After all, what happens when it finally becomes clear to people just how bad these bills are?

When the backlash comes, against Medicare, No Child Left Behind, or even these tax policies, most people assume that the backlash will have to hurt Republicans, since they were in charge when all these provisions were passed. But as long as Democrats/liberals don't figure out how to talk about these things, as long as they don't have an alternative other than more funding for these flawed programs, they will not be able to capture the backlash. If it becomes a general backlash against government, which seems likely, then there is no reason that Republicans can't use it to bolster their claim as the anti-government party.

In other words, it's just a way of getting people madder and madder at big government, which eventually helps fulfull the wet dreams of people like Grover Norquist.

Maybe, but legislation has been getting increasingly complex for a long time, and it seems to be a bipartisan failing. In fact, one of my political science professors, Morris Fiorina, wrote a book a few decades ago theorizing that there was a cycle that went like this:

  • Congress passes complex legislation.

  • Constituents get confused and irate.

  • Constituents call their local congress critter.

  • Congressional staff gets on the horn with offending agency and clears up the problem.

  • Grateful constituents reelect congressman.

  • Repeat as necessary.

In other words, whether consciously or not, congressmen like complex legislation because it gives them a chance to help out their constituents. This book was written 30 years ago, and I don't know if Fiorina himself still supports this theory, but I've always thought it was pretty clever. Quite the vicious cycle, no?

Kevin Drum 9:01 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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