Welcome to DC Sen. Scott Brown!

Bipartisanship has a better name than it should: As often as not, it yields an anodyne moderation that is unequal to the tasks facing the nation. Last year, President Obama scaled back the stimulus bill in hopes of attracting GOP support (he got none), when we now realize the stimulus needed to be larger and longer. The fabled 9/11 Report was produced by a bipartisan consensus and was one of the most internally contradictory texts ever produced. People confuse bipartisanship with consensus, with acting in the national interest, when in fact it can merely result in even less useful or effective policies that conflate the interests of the two parties.

Still, of all the many worries we should entertain about the country’s political life, the greatest is surely the general loss of confidence in government per se, the sense that government is some alien force obnoxious to our lives and interests, the idea that Washington is incapable of accomplishing anything good. This profoundly anti-democratic (small ‘d’) sensibility is first and foremost a moral failing, trusting in impersonal forces like "the market" or "science," rather than in our human capacity for self-governance. And so even if bipartisanship is only a facsimile of consensus, and not the genuine article, a facsimile is better than nothing.


And, so, the swearing in of Senator Scott Brown yesterday represents a sign of hope for the country, and especially for the Democrats. Yes, in the short term, the Dems took the hit. But, going forward, Republicans cannot escape responsibility for governance and Democrats know going in to every debate that they must bring along some GOP Senators. As well, when you have five moderate Republicans on board, you do not have to jump to Sen. Lieberman’s mood swings. The resulting policies may or may not be improved in terms of delivering health care, prosecuting terrorists or jump starting the economy. But, the underlying concern, the concern to show that government can accomplish something on behalf of the citizens who elected it, that will be strengthened.

Senator Brown, of course, will stand for re-election some day and if he likes being a Senator he is likely to be mindful of the progressive views of many Bay State voters, especially on social issues. It will be curious to see how the GOP treats him: They love him today, but this is a pro-choice Republican who has made his peace with gay marriage. And, he posed nude for a magazine. This is not a Jerry Falwell Republican. And, he voted for a health care bill in Massachusetts that has many of the features to which the Republicans object in the current reform effort at the national level. Sen. Brown needs to be careful lest he find himself as the second Senator from Massachusetts to be for something before he was against it.

Maybe the prospect of another snow storm has my thoughts turning in decidedly Augustinian ways this morning. To regain confidence in government seems like such a small thing, and bipartisanship seems like such a small means towards that admittedly small end. But, it is not a small thing after all. It is the last myth of Reaganism, the myth that government is not the solution to our nation’s ills but the problem. The myth is in the participle. Reagan was right that government is not "the" solution, but it may be "a" solution. It may be "a" problem but it is not "the" problem. Whatever else it is, government is a creation of ourselves and will be as good or as bad as we insist that it be. The new Senator from Massachusetts, like the still new President from Illinois, are in their positions of governance because we sent them there.

Michael Sean Winters


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Gabriel Marcella
8 years 11 months ago
The founding fathers would take umbrage at the notion that the current impasse in Washington is "profoundly anti-democratic" and "a moral failing." They would instead applaud because they did not want government to abuse power, they would be pleased to see that the checks and balances indeed work. At the same time we cannot minimize the value of government in providing security, justice, regulation of the marketplace, education, and other essential services. The question then becomes: how activist or minimalist do we want the government to be in all of these areas?
I reluctantly join other colleagues in hoping that this blog becomes less Obama- centric because it tends to narrow the discussion and discussants. I sense an emerging Obama fatigue across the fruited plain. Moreover, there are many issues out there that interest the Catholic community.
8 years 11 months ago
"Still, of all the many worries we should entertain about the country’s political life, the greatest is surely the general loss of confidence in government per se, the sense that government is some alien force obnoxious to our lives and interests, the idea that Washington is incapable of accomplishing anything good. This profoundly anti-democratic (small ‘d’) sensibility is first a foremost a moral failing, trusting in impersonal forces like "the market" of "science," rather than in our human capacity for self-governance. And so even if bipartisanship is only a facsimile of consensus, and not the genuine article, a facsimile is better than nothing."
A) Wasn't distrust of a far off political class in a far off capital a founding inspiration of this nation?  The "capacity for self-governance" should refer, first and foremost, to that most republican (small "r") sensibility that the government closest to the people governs best.
B) There is, of course, another "narrative" as to why we have lost confidence in the federal government.  That narrative is, of course, the conservative narrative that Washington has overstepped its bounds and in so doing has proven itself to be incapable of doing things outside of its "core competencies."  In the process, as George Will, David Brooks and Ross Douthat have been pointing out, as the technical, regulatory state spreads its influence, it renders us ALL "special interests" depended on the feds for various and sundry gifts, thus rendering the spread of the "corrupting influence of money and lobbyists" liberals love to bemoan. Unfortunately, Mr. Winters chooses to either ignore this conservative narrative because its easier to produced hackneyed posts like this and yesterdays about how Republicans have no ideas, or chooses to assume without justification that the conservative narrative is simply wrong, which unfortunately yields the same hackneyed posts.  
Because of America's & Mr. Winter's unique perspective, I really expected this blog to yield unconventional insights into politics in the age of Obama.  Rather than choosing to engage conservatives (Catholics), Mr. Winters rather write this jeremiad attacking bi-partisanship.  For example, much has been made in the liberal blogosphere (and by Pres. Obama) about Rep. Paul Ryan's alternative budget.  Mr. Ryan, a young Catholic Republican, has some interesting proposals to transform the welfare state.  Have we heard about those ideas here? Nope.  All we get is a "proof-text" for why Obama is right and no one else has anything to offer.  
Vince Killoran
8 years 11 months ago
I don't think MSW's posts are "hackneyed."  Instead of all the fury Jeff how about telling us more about Rep. Ryan's proposals and why we should support them?
8 years 11 months ago
Well its not really my blog & I'm not the one ranting about the dearth of Republican ideas.  My only point is that I fear Mr. Winters has gotten off-point (somewhat in the style of Keith Olbermann) and has neglected some analysis of Mr. Ryan's plan, which is curious because his fellow Liberal bloggers and the President himself are all a-twitter about Mr. Ryan's plan.  I've looked back through the recent posts, particularly those about the budget, and looked at his comments about Republicans.  Nary a word about Mr. Ryan.  That said, here are some useful links:
http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/03/paul-ryans-moment/  (That's to the New York Times, of course).
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/02/rep_paul_ryan_rationing_happen.html  (To the Washington Post)
http://article.nationalreview.com/423742/roadmap-to-solvency/paul-ryan (To the National Review- GASP!)  While you're at the Review, check out "The Agenda" blog - its the blog of young Pakistani-American conservative, Reihan Salam.  He has a prescient post today about giving "equal time" to your intellectual-sparring partners and how (some) Liberal commentators haven't been doing that with regards to Republicans. 
Vince Killoran
8 years 11 months ago
I still don't get your reference to MSW being "hackneyed" and now I don't understand how he is "ranting."
Mindful of the new AMERICA policy (and they're good ones!) I won't keep adding my contributions to this particular post but your anger at MSW is that he is a liberal Catholic.  You certainly aren't arguing that MSW must present Rep. Ryan's views for us are you ("its not really my blog")?  If your think Ryan's proposal are compelling tell us why.
8 years 11 months ago
First, my comments are not pointed at Mr. Winters personally, nor at any other commentator.  They are, rather, meant to disagree with his opinions and reasoning, and for that reason believe they fall within new posting rules.
The posts are "hackneyed" in the sense that have read like White House talking-points-for-Catholics.  In fairness, obviously I didn't vote for Pres. Obama and lean conservative, so I won't find succor at Mr. Winters's word.  However, I thought, as a reader of America, a magazine that has always managed to blend viewpoints and give equal time to various sides, that his posts would, as I said earlier, yield some un-conventional insights into Obama & his political world.  Instead, I find that the views have unwaveringly followed the standard MSNBC/liberal narrative, ergo:  "Pres. Obama has attempted to save the world today, only to have such attempt scuttled by an at-once weakened, demoralized, incoherent, yet omnipotent, wealthy nefarious right-wing conspiracy of obstructionism who's very existence threatens the foundations of society."  Two more examples: A) There was a fascinating story in the Wash Post this week about a study from Penn showing that Abstinence-based sex ed has been more successful than previously thought at the same time the Obama administration has slashed federal funding for such programs.  Ross Douthat had a column on it.  No mention here.  Clearly that study has some Catholic implications?  Instead, on the same day the study was reported, we got a post about the evils of the National Prayer Breakfast.  B) The recent posts re: Robby George and his evils.  Here is an intellectual in the heart of the beast, i.e. Ivy League educational institution, keeping alive (abeit with a very conservative interpretation) the venerable Natural Law tradition that is THE SINGLE BEST heritage of the Catholic Church to the history of ideas.  Yet because Prof. George has opposed Pres. Obama's positions on various topics (including a man who wrote a forward to a book called "Queering Elementary Education"), he's dismissed as a homophobic partisan who is best left to his far-right-world.  Heck, even the New York Times profile of Prof. George was more charitable.  
Pearce Shea
8 years 11 months ago
I too like America and Mr. Winters but, like Jeff, feel that MSW's posts veer into crazy, nonsensical territory (at worst) or slavishly recapitulate the Democratic Party's talking points (at best) when it comes to discussing conservatives or Republicans. It's not only hackneyed in the sense that he seems to parrot many other Democrat-voting pundits, its hackneyed in the sense that he repeats himself over and over again. Some of this is probably because he has to write a blog each day.
MSW is a smart guy, but his so much of what he writes seems to indicate he'd like nothing more to turn back the clock to when being Catholic and voting Democrat where synonymous.


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