'Unlearning': A Hail Mary government cannot stand

US Capitol by Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com

Article Highlights

  • What is happening now is more than a deep, bitter, ideological split. It is an "unlearning" of government.

    Tweet This

  • The fiscal-cliff "deal" is a perfect example of unlearning how to govern.

    Tweet This

  • The more we rely on Hail Marys, the more we assume that we'll solve a crisis at the last minute.

    Tweet This

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is a response to an article by Jay Nordlinger entitled, "The People, the Sainted People."

Jay, your lamentation on “we get the government we deserve” is spot on, and I firmly believe it has everything to do with the larger culture (not pop culture, but the totality of our sense of values, priorities, level of civic education, etc.). But I think what is happening now is more than a deep, bitter ideological split. It is an “unlearning” of government.

The fiscal-cliff “deal” is a perfect example of unlearning how to govern. First, one cannot govern through Hail Marys. It simply cannot be expected that serious, thoughtful legislation or policy can be created under conditions little short of panic. Unbearable pressure from within and without government cannot lead to even barely optimal solutions. Some day, perhaps very soon, like February, the Hail Mary approach will fail. It will fail for lots of good reasons: The crisis was too complex, a bargain couldn’t be reached, particular interests prevailed over common interest, whatever. You can get away with a Hail Mary once, or occasionally, but it is a huge gamble to assume things will always fall into place.

Second, and related, the more we come to rely on Hail Marys, the more we assume that we’ll always solve a crisis or problem at the last minute. That is destructive of any common sense of responsible governance. It takes away the rightful sense of urgency in identifying and debating problems, or in proposing proper legislation. We no longer take seriously the art of governing, not solely because of selfish interests, but because we the people through Congress can always kick the can down the road, and pull out a last-minute score. That is the unlearning of government, and the more it becomes the accepted way to legislate, the more atrophied become the regular organs or patterns of governance. I don’t know how many new senators there have been since 2010, but whatever the number is (say ten, one-tenth of the entire chamber), they’ve never passed a constitutionally mandated budget; indeed, they may not know how to, since it is not part of their governing experience. Instead, they only know how to fulfill their budgetary function through continuing resolutions. That becomes their new normal, and they have “unlearned” government.

Ad hoc government cannot survive, especially if it eats away at and replaces long-established custom, represented by a written constitution. Our first national attempt at government, the Articles of Confederation, did not last, as they were not strong enough to deal with the pressing issues of post-colonial governance. How much less can the adoption of ad hoc approaches in a far larger, far more complex, far more divided nation. Again, I would argue that we are embarked on a great experiment in unlearning government and seeing how much national patrimony we can waste before our system collapses under the natural weight of selfish and sectional interest.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Auslin

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 27
    MON
  • 28
    TUE
  • 29
    WED
  • 30
    THU
  • 31
    FRI
Monday, October 27, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
State income taxes and the Supreme Court: Maryland Comptroller v. Wynne

Please join AEI for a panel discussion exploring these and other questions about this crucial case.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
For richer, for poorer: How family structures economic success in America

Join Lerman, Wilcox, and a group of distinguished scholars and commentators for the release of Lerman and Wilcox’s report, which examines the relationships among and policy implications of marriage, family structure, and economic success in America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
The 7 deadly virtues: 18 conservative writers on why the virtuous life is funny as hell

Please join AEI for a book forum moderated by Last and featuring five of these leading conservative voices. By the time the forum is over, attendees may be on their way to discovering an entirely different — and better — moral universe.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
A nuclear deal with Iran? Weighing the possibilities

Join us, as experts discuss their predictions for whether the United States will strike a nuclear deal with Iran ahead of the November 24 deadline, and the repercussions of the possible outcomes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.
The forgotten depression — 1921: The crash that cured itself

Please join Author James Grant and AEI senior economists for a discussion about Grant's book, "The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself" (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.