Shawn Mitchell

History didn’t end quite as soon as Francis Fukayama famously forecast. Every generation will face interesting times, it seems. But, David Brooks, the New York Times’ idea of a conservative, recently bid to team with Fukayama to seize a consolation prize.If you can’t end history, maybe you can end the American Constitutional order. That would be interesting, and pleasing to deep thinkers disappointed in Congress’s failure to pass a lot of awesome new laws.

Brooks doesn’t exactly say so, but trashing the Constitution is what he advocates in his modestly titled piece: “Strengthen the Presidency.” Brooks sensitively builds his case by sharing the wrenching plight of Congressional budget analysts who toil thanklessly to analyze the impact of lots of really good bills that somehow never get passed.

The pathos! “They work furiously hard to analyze the impact of bills — immigration reform, tax reform, entitlement reform and gun legislation — but almost none of these bills ever makes it into law. There’s all this effort, but no result.”So, Brooks asserts we’re in era of “reform stagnation.” Years might go by without big, new laws.

To explain the drought’s cause, Brooks cites Fukayama’s essay in the current issue of The American Interest, The Decay of American Institutions, which diagnoses increased polarization, too many interest groups and lobbyists, and expansive power grabs by courts that foster too much litigation, all of which have combined to shrink the influence of the executive branch.

It’s a neat bit of verbal alchemy to jump from congressional gridlock and then somehow land at a hogtied presidency, but Brooks and Fukayama are agile enough to pull it off. Brooks has just the solution: Pump up the presidency! Expand its powers! Not because we necessarily trust the executive, but because we’re better off when the president is stronger than outside interest groups that “capture” Congress. Brooks must rank that insight as among nature’s self evident truths, because he leaves it mostly undeveloped.

Brooks argues the executive could forge solutions on things like immigration reform (and presumably the rest of his litany of tragically unpassed bills) that Congress is just too polarized to tackle. Further, he’s enthused that executive staffs are usually more expert than congressional staffs, and more insulated from the groups that do tawdry things like try to petition government.


Shawn Mitchell

Shawn Mitchell was elected to Senate District 23 in the Colorado General Assembly in November of 2004. Shawn is an attorney at private practice in Denver and Adams County.