It’s official; Congress is now on its lengthy summer vacation, and President Obama isn’t far behind them. In the past few days, we’ve all read and heard pundits saying that with the many crises our nation is facing, this is no time to empty out Washington D.C. Politicians should stay at their posts, we hear until they do something.
That’s exactly the wrong sentiment.
Gridlock is good, and “away from the office” might just be the best place for a politician in most cases. And the problem with the urge to “do something” is that often, the unintended consequences of hasty action are worse than the problem we’re trying to solve.
Arguably, two of the most pressing problems we faced today are the result of government actions — in fact, activist government.
The first is the immigration crisis, which was brought about by President Obama’s urge to do something in the face of congressional inaction on the matter. He declared he would stop deporting young children who came here illegally through no choice of their own. The so-called “dreamers” (from the DREAM Act) would be given a chance to stay, go to college if they want, and even to serve in the military.
The result, of course, was a deluge of young people who naturally want the same opportunities. Call it political physics: Action and reaction.
The other issue is the VA scandal. Those secret waiting lists and falsified files aren’t simply the result of a few incompetent staffers at VA facilities. They’re the logical result of government-designed “performance incentives.” If you pay people bonuses to have shorter waiting lists, you’re going to get shorter waiting lists. You might not like how the lists were shorted, though.
No, the real point here is that when the former swampland that makes up D.C. is drained of politicians, we’re really better off. Gridlock, in fact, is good.
That’s something Justice Antonin Scalia likes to emphasize.
“I hear Americans saying this nowadays, and there’s a lot of it going around,” Scalia told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2011. “They talk about a dysfunctional government because there’s disagreement ... and the Framers would have said, ‘Yes! That’s exactly the way we set it up. We wanted this to be power contradicting power because the main ill besetting us ... is an excess of legislation’ ... This is 1787; he didn’t know what an excess of legislation was.”
In fact, Scalia said we should learn to love gridlock.
“Unless Americans can appreciate that and learn to love the separation of powers, which means learning to love the gridlock which the Framers believed would be the main protector of minorities, (we lose) the main protection,” he said. “If a bill is about to pass that really comes down hard on some minority (and) they think it’s terribly unfair, it doesn’t take much to throw a monkey wrench into this complex system. Americans should appreciate that; they should learn to love the gridlock. It’s there so the legislation that does get out is good legislation.”