Rauch has a new e-book (free, at least as of the other day, when I downloaded it) called Political Realism. He argues that progressive political reforms have had adverse unintended consequences. In particular, they have made life more difficult for John Boehner.
Rauch relies on a distinction between professional and amateur politicians, a distinction for which he credits James
John Q. Wilson. The pros just want to stay in power, and they will compromise on principles in order to keep it. The amateurs are ideologues.
Rauch argues that seemingly well-intentioned reforms have weakened political parties and thereby strengthened the amateurs. The reforms include attempts to require transparency in government, to restrict campaign finance, to curb earmarks, and to give ordinary voters more power to choose candidates via primaries.
The major unintended consequence of these reforms has been polarization and gridlock. Because the professionals are no longer free to manage the political process, government has become ineffective. Rauch argues that we should dial back the reforms that weaken the party pros and instead think in terms of reforms that strengthen them.
If you believe, as Rauch does, that the professionals would govern more effectively if given more slack, then his argument goes through. However, I am not sure that I buy into that assumption.
I can see one issue–entitlement reform–on which a compromise among professionals could have beneficial effects. But the unsustainable system of entitlements was built by those very professionals whom Rauch extols. My cynical take is that the professionals are good at compromising on the use of other people’s money, most especially when the other people are too young to vote or not even yet born.
If you ask me, the single most consequential political act of my lifetime is likely to be President Obama’s decision to throw the Bowles-Simpson recommendations under the bus. That may have destroyed the last chance to prevent a budget train wreck. Yet Rauch believes that Obama is one of the good guys, a professional able to compromise.
Obama’s professionalism, according to Rauch, is illustrated by the way that health care reform involved compromising with various interests. But if Obamacare is your poster child for professional politics, you are not going to convince me to jump on board the Rauch bandwagon.
As you can tell, my feelings about the book are mixed. I think that the main points are insightful. I see those as
1. Professional politicians are better able to compromise if amateur ideologues are less influential.
2. Progressive reforms have worked to empower amateur ideologues.
However, I do not share Rauch’s optimism for what the professionals might accomplish if they had their way.