The Politics of "Consensus" Is the Politics of Failure   (June 11, 2012)

Persuading those in power to limit their power via "consensus" doesn't work. Both the legal system and the horse-trading politics of "consensus" have failed.

How do you get "consensus" in politics? You horse-trade. You give everybody something they want. You cut everyone into the deal. That passes for "consensus" in politics: divide the swag.

If you want to understand President Obama's failure as a leader, ask (as my friend G.F.B. did) where did he learn politics? In Chicago. Big-city politics boils down to getting the ward bosses, ethnic-neighborhood leaders, Chamber of Commerce and public unions together and making them all happy with concessions, give-aways or some other slice of swag so they all agree to to support some minor policy tweak of the Status Quo.

Any constituency left out of the swag distribution squeals like a stuck pig and kills the "consensus."

This "making sausage" consensus is passed off as "the only way to get anything passed," but the truth is that it's the politics of failure: nothing meaningful can possibly get done in the politics of "consensus" because 95% of any useful reform must be traded away to get everyone willingly on board.

What you end up with after all the horse-trading "consensus" is 2,319-page monstrosities of self-defeating complexity like the “Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act" or the 2,074-page healthcare bill. I have addressed these simulacra "reforms" many times:
What If We're Beyond Mere Policy Tweaks? (February 6, 2012)
America Is Just Going Through the Motions (November 19, 2010)

The theory is that tiny baby-steps of hopelessly complex (and thus hopelessly corrupt) "reform" that everyone has been bought off to accept will eventually restore equilibrium to a political and financial system heading for a cliff.

In this view, President Obama had to trade away this to Big Pharma and that to Big Banking and so on, in order "to get the bill passed." This bribery-based "consensus building" is the politics of failure. Those engorging themselves at the trough of Federal swag and power are the very forces that need corraling, yet they are the same forces that must be persuaded with give-aways and concessions to agree to limit their own power and revenue stream.

Dodd-Frank and Obamacare are two examples of what you get with this sort of politics of failure: the underlying problems have not been addressed or solved, they've been made more intractable.

Those feeding at the trough of swag and power will never willingly agree to limit their share of the tax revenues and power. Big-city horse-trading works when a mayor needs to get everyone in power to agree to a new subway line; there are billions of dollars in "free" construction money to give away, so there's plenty of swag to distribute to buy agreement.

Limiting power and shrinking budgets cannot be accomplished with big-city type "consensus." Nobody "agrees" to their power and budget being slashed or their power base and revenue stream demolished. That sort of structural reform can only be accomplished by those in power losing to the will of the people: either fix what's broken or we'll vote the whole lot of you out next election.

This kind of national revulsion at the "consensus reforms" of the Status Quo does occur from time to time, and the political Status Quo is thrown out en masse.

American jurisprudence may also have a hand in the politics of failure. 25 out of the 43 presidents (Grover Cleveland served twice) have been lawyers, and so having a law degree (or self-educated, in the case of Andrew Jackson) does not in itself qualify or disqualify a candidate for the presidency.

But as "it depends on your definition of it" Bill Clinton proved, a law background colors one's understanding of ethics and power. What is just and right has lost all meaning in a system based on "getting the best deal possible for your client" regardless of guilt or justice. "Justice" has devolved to persuading a jury or judge that your client is blameless or justified, and "guilt" is now a PR pantomime of rationalizations slicked down with a blatantly insincere and hurried apology to the injured parties.

Indeed, we can understand President Obama's signing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as the perfection of the current legalist mindset: claim authority over a wide range of action and limit any legal constraints on that range of action.
Indefinite Detention, Endless Worldwide War and the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (
Welcome to the United States of Orwell, Part 1: Our One Last Chance to Preserve the Bill of Rights (March 26, 2012)

Obama's legalist power-grab mindset is also clearly revealed in his Orwellian Executive Order National Defense Resources Preparedness.

Welcome to the United States of Orwell, Part 3: We had to Destroy Democracy in Order to Save It (March 28, 2012).

Once again we see the President's clear legal intent: claim unconstrained authority over the entire infrastructure and populace of the U.S. so his future "freedom of action" is unlimited by legal constraints. Read the Executive Order yourself if you doubt this: National Defense Resources Preparedness.(

The politics of horse-trading power-player "consensus" fits perfectly with a legalist mindset that places a premium on "getting the best deal possible" and claiming wide authority via Executive Order. Has the legal mindset poisoned politics, or has power politics poisoned our understanding of the law, ethics and justice?

Perhaps both law and politics have drunk from the poisoned chalice, and President Obama's abysmal failure as a leader and his vast power-grabs via Executive Order are the result of gulping the poison twice: once as a lawyer, and again as a politician.

Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change (print $25)
(Kindle eBook $9.95)

Read the Introduction (2,600 words) and Chapter One (7,600 words) for free.

We are like passengers on the Titanic ten minutes after its fatal encounter with the iceberg: though our financial system seems unsinkable, its reliance on debt and financialization has already doomed it.

We cannot know when the Central State and financial system will destabilize, we only know they will destabilize. We cannot know which of the State’s fast-rising debts and obligations will be renounced; we only know they will be renounced in one fashion or another.

The process of the unsustainable collapsing and a new, more sustainable model emerging is called revolution, and it combines cultural, technological, financial and political elements in a dynamic flux.

History is not fixed; it is in our hands. We cannot await a remote future transition to transform our lives. Revolution begins with our internal understanding and reaches fruition in our coherently directed daily actions in the lived-in world.

If this recession strikes you as different from previous downturns, you might be interested in my book An Unconventional Guide to Investing in Troubled Times (print edition) or Kindle ebook format. You can read the ebook on any computer, smart phone, iPad, etc. Click here for links to Kindle apps and Chapter One. The solution in one word: Localism.

Readers forum:

Order Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation (free bits) (Kindle) or Survival+ The Primer (Kindle) or Weblogs & New Media: Marketing in Crisis (free bits) (Kindle) or from your local bookseller.

Of Two Minds Kindle edition: Of Two Minds blog-Kindle

"This guy is THE leading visionary on reality. He routinely discusses things which no one else has talked about, yet, turn out to be quite relevant months later."
--Walt Howard, commenting about CHS on another blog.

NOTE: gifts/contributions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.

  Thank you, Michael M. ($5/month), for your remarkably generous subscription to this site--I am greatly honored by your support and readership.  

Or send him coins, stamps or quatloos via mail--please request P.O. Box address.

Subscribers ($5/mo) and contributors of $50 or more this year will receive a weekly email of exclusive (though not necessarily coherent) musings and amusings.

At readers' request, there is also a $10/month option.

The "unsubscribe" link is for when you find the usual drivel here insufferable.

Your readership is greatly appreciated with or without a donation.
For more on this subject and a wide array of other topics, please visit my weblog.


All content, HTML coding, format design, design elements and images copyright © 2012 Charles Hugh Smith, All rights reserved in all media, unless otherwise credited or noted.

I would be honored if you linked this essay to your site, or printed a copy for your own use.

Terms of Service:
All content on this blog is provided by Trewe LLC for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. These terms and conditions of use are subject to change at anytime and without notice.



Making your Amazon purchases
through this Search Box helps
at no cost to you:

Add to your reader:


My Big Island Girl
Thrill the players to bits:
buy it via CD Baby or (99 cents)

Instrumentals by my friend
and mentor Coconut Charlie:

Crash Course
Secret Asian Man
Third Stone
Tonic Float

Survival+   blog  fiction/novels   articles  my hidden history   books/films   what's for dinner   home   email me