Political Reform and Revolution: Yglesias Responds

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Matt Yglesias has responded to questions (raised by The Economist‘s anonymous Democracy in America blogger and yours truly) about his supposed drift towards Matt Taibbi-style broad cynicism about America’s political system. Yglesias points out, quite rightly, that he’s always been more of a Taibbi-ite than DiA gave him credit for:

I also would like it noted, for the record, that my interest in political reform does not stem from any “disappointment” in how Barack Obama isn’t able to get anything done. I was writing about this back in December because I always knew that Barack Obama wouldn’t be able to get anything done.

Duly noted. Yglesias also provides a long list of political reforms—DC statehood, the elimination of the filibuster, the end of the electoral college, etc.—that he thinks would improve matters, claiming that “It wouldn’t take a ‘revolution’ to achieve any of that.” That’s where he’s dodging the question.

Most reasonable people (presumably even Taibbi) are, like Yglesias, “skeptical about the utility of violence in bringing about positive political change.” But the reason Yglesias could so confidently assert back in December that Barack Obama wasn’t going to be able to get anything done was that the political reforms Yglesias suggests are actually incredibly unlikely to happen.

Just because a reform is possible or even theoretically easy (i.e., doing away with the filibuster or carving out a federal district and making the rest of DC a state) doesn’t mean it has any realistic chance of being enacted. So that puts pragmatists like Yglesias and Ezra Klein back in the same spot. If what the country needs is unlikely to happen without political reform, and political reform is very unlikely to happen, what is a pragmatist to do? I don’t have the answer. But it’s one thing to say a reform doesn’t require a violent revolution for it to happen. It’s another to explain how the reform is actually going to happen, or how the people who support it are going to make it happen.

I’m also still interested in a Port Huron-style Juicebox Mafia statement of principles.

PS: I’m using the term “Juicebox Mafia” with the understanding that it has been co-opted and is no longer a slur.

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