The People’s Business

The polarization that characterizes American politics these days begins with very different world-views–and very different beliefs about what government is and what it is for. Those differences used to exist within a “big tent” Republican Party, back when there were still a lot of perfectly sane Republicans. (I still remember those times; I told you I’m old…)

I still remember the telling difference between the rhetoric employed by Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, who liked to refer to citizens as “customers” of government, and the Hudnut Administration that preceded Goldsmith’s. I served in the Hudnut Administration, and although we didn’t borrow from business terminology, I think it’s fair to say that we considered citizens to be  shareholders, not customers.

We understood that citizens are the owners of the government enterprise.

So far, the Biden Administration has taken steps to do the people’s business, to reflect a belief that government should actively pursue the public good as reflected in the desires of a majority of its citizen-owners. As Heather Cox Richardson recently noted, Biden has refused to engage with the craziness and has instead acted on matters ordinary people care about.

Biden is using executive orders to undercut the partisanship that has ground Congress to a halt for the past several years. While Biden’s predecessor tended to use executive actions to implement quite unpopular policies, Biden is using them to implement policies that most Americans actually like but which could never make it through Congress, where Republicans hold power disproportionate to their actual popularity.

According to a roundup by polling site FiveThirtyEight, Biden’s executive actions cover issues that people want to see addressed. Eighty-three percent of Americans—including 64% of Republicans—support a prohibition on workplace discrimination over sexual identification, 77% (including 52% of Republicans) want the government to focus on racial equity, 75% want the government to require masks on federal property, and 68% like the continued suspension of federal student loan repayments. A majority of Americans also favor rejoining the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accords, and so on.

There is, of course, a limit to what can be accomplished by Executive Order. Biden has thus far shown an admirable intent to “stay in his lane”–to restrict his actions to those that can be defended as appropriate to the Executive Branch. But doing the people’s business–fulfilling the numerous needs and demands of government’s “owners”–will require action by Congress.

Congress, unfortunately, is massively dysfunctional.

The current debate in Congress about the filibuster illustrates that today’s partisan divide is between those who believe government is obliged to do the people’s business–to carry out the wishes of the owners of the enterprise– and those who quite clearly believe that their role is to prevent that business from being conducted (unless, of course, the business at hand involves a tax cut that will benefit their donors.)

The nation’s Founders contemplated a Congress that would engage in negotiation and compromise, and would then proceed to pass measures by a simple majority vote–not a super-majority. Today, thanks to the evolution of the filibuster over the years, it takes sixty votes to pass anything, no matter how innocuous.

Of course, the Founders also believed that the people we would elect to Congress would be “the best and brightest”–public-spirited, educated and reasonable men (yes, I know…) who would take their legislative responsibilities seriously. I wonder what they’d think of the gun-toting, conspiracy-believing wackos who are currently walking the halls of the Capitol and warning about fires started by Jewish space-lasers …

Not to get overly partisan here, but those lunatics are all Republicans…..and they have no concept of–or ability to do– “the people’s business.”


  1. The optics of The President listening to the ideas of 10 Republican Senators in The Oval Office, everyone, including The President, leading by example, wearing a mask, is not only refreshing, it is encouraging for me to witness civil discourse on differing ideas. Adults are now in charge.

  2. Doing the people’s business would indicate we resemble a democracy – we don’t. We don’t even resemble a democratic republic. We are an oligarchy.

    Interestingly, academia is starting to get on the same page as Albert Einstein was on in 1949 (it took them long enough).

    Now, how long before our “free press” joins the chorus and tells people the truth about our situation. As a truth-seeker, what I find the most staggering is how people in the USA attack the truth and push it to the fringe. “The mainstream is correct – you’re a liar! What’s your motive?”

    Anyway, others are starting to point out our reality, which means it will become harder to bury the truth with propaganda like inviting 10 GOP representatives to the WH to cover-up the fact you lied about $2,000 checks “immediately” when addressing the good people in GA.

    This weekend, #BidenLied was trending on Twitter.

    The two academics who wrote the letter will catch some flak for it, but it is spot-on:

    “As a result, the American economy has begun to resemble a new, modern feudalism with a small technocracy dominated by Silicon Valley tech overlords and Wall Street billionaires at the top, and a large, uneducated, rapidly growing serf class at the bottom with no social safety net to protect it. . Even if the wealth gap were to be considerably reduced by transfer from rich to poor, precarity would persist because it is rooted not in inequality, but in a depleted public sector, in a public authority that has abandoned the public and increasingly become a vehicle for predatory capitalism.”


  3. Government is not the only entity mis-labeling the people it serves by referring to them as “customers”. During my stint working at a rural hospital the patients there were also referred to a “customers”. The term indicated quite honestly not service, but a bargain and a need to sell.
    For government representatives it isn’t “What can I help you with?” It’s “Can I get your zip code, your email address, a donation and your vote?” For the medical establishment it’s pharmaceutical advertisements on a closed circuit TV in the waiting room and exam room, unnecessary tests, referrals, and prescriptions.”
    While I keep thinking of myself as a citizen or patient; the government and medical establishment think of me as just another part of their income stream.
    We need to bring back “truth in labeling”.

  4. Sheila, take a look at how this is appearing now on FB – you’re going to lose a lot of readers. The new algorithms that seemed to be put in place two nights ago strip away the lede from the FB link. It’s an obvious ploy to try to get you to put everything there, rather than move off to other websites.

  5. A simple way to learn how much of “The People’s Business” was accounted for by the federal government over the past 10 years could be easily found. An accounting for Senator Mitch McConnell’s history and his abuse of power in the Senate could be found in the number of bills and appointment nominations submitted to the SENATE, NOT to McConnell personally, by Democrats which were put before the full Senate for hearing and those still sitting somewhere in his office. And the same accounting regarding the number of Republican bills and appointment nominations submitted by Republicans.

  6. As usual, Todd paints us as a mindless oligarchy devoid of any hope for representative government. While we tend to elect corrupt politicians at every level, there are some long-term views that show that sometimes Todd’s oligarchy works for the greater good.
    Blue at the top, red at the bottom
    Has the economy fared better under Democratic presidents or Republican presidents over the past century? The sensible answer might seem to be: It’s probably been similar.

    Presidents, after all, have only limited control over the economy. They don’t have much influence over the millions of decisions every day, made by consumers and business executives, that shape economic growth, jobs, incomes and stock prices. Over the course of a century, it seems logical that the economy would have performed similarly under Democrats and Republicans.

    But it hasn’t.

    The economy has fared far better under Democrats. The gap, as one academic paper puts it, is “startlingly large.” Here are the headline numbers:

    And here is a ranking of presidents by average annual G.D.P. growth:

    The gap exists not only for G.D.P. and jobs but also for incomes, productivity and stock prices. The gap also exists if you assume that a president’s policies affect the economy with a lag and don’t start his economic clock until months after he takes office. Virtually any reasonable look at the data shows a big Democratic advantage.

    My colleague Yaryna Serkez and I have just published a piece documenting the pattern and the potential reasons. A few possibilities are easy to reject. It’s not about congressional control, nor is it about Democrats running up larger budget deficits. (Republican presidents have run up larger deficits in recent decades.)

    Coincidence surely plays some role — but it’s highly unlikely to account for the entire gap, given its size, breadth and duration. Yaryna’s and my piece explores some of the most plausible explanations:

    Republican presidents have been slow to respond to recessions and other crises — Donald Trump and both George Bushes being examples. (Herbert Hoover was too, and the partisan gap would be even bigger if the data went back far enough to include him.)
    Recent Democratic presidents have been more pragmatic, willing to listen to the evidence about when the economy would benefit from deficit reduction and when it needs government support for education, infrastructure, scientific research and more.
    Republican presidents over the past 40 years have pursued one economic policy above all other — tax cuts, skewed heavily toward the affluent — and there is little evidence that they do much for economic growth.
    Our piece has more details and charts, as well as comments from both conservative and liberal economists. Find it all here.

  7. So my questions are: Sheila, do you personally own any Jewish space lasers? If you do, are they capable of precise targeting? If they are, are you taking suggestions and recommendations for targets?

  8. Vernon – thank you for your comments regarding Todd’s constant drumbeat of disasters – current and pending. I have concluded that his glass is perpetually half empty, and that he seems satisfied pontificating at us uneducated hoi polloi from what apparently is a superior position. Oh well, I am becoming too impolite, I am just tired of it. And, that drumbeat of dread interferes with one of our prime responsibilities as citizens – staying informed and thinking.

    I think you forgot some links – I look forward to reading your pieces if you can supply the links. Thanks.

    Some time ago, I believe it was Pete who used to remark, «Republicans and Democrats want the same things, Democrats just want them for everyone.». Apologies if I have misremembered.

    Looking around, reflecting on my own efforts to contribute to the greater good, observing the actions of politicians of all sorts, I am struck by the prevalence of incompetence. Much forward progress seems to rest on luck – and that business of luck favouring the prepared mind. Given the variety of desires present in the billions of us present on this small blue marble, it is amazing that any of us admit to any sort of satisfaction. It is easy to be right, it is harder to compromise and do the work of sharing rightness and success.

    If we Liberals are well meaning bunglers, it still seems better to have us running things and trying to do right, than to throw up our hands and concede the field to the cynical, self dealing McConnells of our world who think doing right equals keeping themselves in charge of the means of their own betterment, only – be d***** to the rest.

    Regarding Biden lying – Adam Serwer just published a piece in the Atlantic about the inevitability of politicians lying. (Nothing can ever excuse the nasty, intent to harm, that characterized the unending, infinitely deep and malignant lying of 45.)

    We can choose to pay attention to what President Biden says, combined with what he does, and take an adult road on which we disengage from attempts at one upmanship and see what goals we move toward – our job is alertness and non-cynical participation – everyone of us has fallen down the black hole of letting the perfect mow down the good. It is time to grow up about that style of thinking. By allowing ourselves to be convinced that some effort misses a mark, likely an arbitrary one, don’t we miss the important efforts and the essential marks that could move us to a better world for everyone?

    As always, thank you all for listening.

  9. Seriously, Vernon? GDP?

    Wall Street controls the Democratic Party. Of course, their focus is boosting GDP and the stock market.


    How do we rank on the Happiness Index with all that “growth” in GDP and ROI?

    The problem is forty years of neoliberalism by both captive political parties has resulted in massive inequalities and an extraction of wealth this country hasn’t witnessed since the 1920s and 30s, or the last Gilded Age.

    Of course, don’t let me get in the way of your self-promotion and apologetic love for the DNC. 😉

  10. I do not know how much “civil discourse” took place between Biden/Harris and the 10 republicans who offered a considerably cheaper plan, after having been happy to send billions to the Armed forces and the already wealthy. I do no know why Schumer has not pointed that out to them, in public, having had a great opportunity to do so 2 days ago.
    Doing the people’s business has not been on Republican radar since at least Nixon, maybe Eisenhower. I offer one of my favorite quotes about them: J.K. Galbraith’s “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
    And then there is a wonderful sentiment about legacy (speaking of McConnell’s pile of some 400 dead bills) “Be ashamed to die until you have scored some victory for humanity,” by Neil deGrasse Tyson, a “kid” from the Bronx. As I type, I am resisting hateful rhetoric!

  11. And in the soon-to-be immortal words of the former Democratic and current Republican governor Jim Justice of West virginia, “don’t count the legs on the cows just count the cows!” ??

    In other words, it could mean, those legs are part of the cow, so take care of the cow, and the legs will be just fine! No need to be fiddle farting around!

    Or maybe it just means “git’er done,” in other words pass the dadgum covid bill, go big which is what he said needs to be done.

    Anyway, I guess whatever it means, I really liked it! ?

  12. “Biden lying about the $2,000”:

    Is making a promise to do something that you don’t have the sole power to do a lie, if others who do have the power stop you from fulfilling that promise? I suppose one could have an academic debate about that.

    Biden did make a promise in Georgia (as did the 2 Dems who got elected as Senators). Biden at this point is, however, essentially just a cheerleader, albeit a very important and influential one. But whether all Americans get another $1,400 (in addition to the recent $600) is not within Biden’s power or authority (at least until some bill is passed by Congress and arrives on his desk).

    Whether people get $2,000 is solely in the hands of the U.S. Congress (more accurately the Senate). There are 2 (well actually 3, if Republican support was even a realistic possibility) ways for the Dems’ Virus Stimulation bill to pass in today’s Senate.

    The 1st, and perhaps the easiest assuming all 50 Dem Senators are on board, is via a reconciliation spending bill that would require only a simple majority of 51 votes to pass (as Bernie said on TV last night, the Senate rules are “arcane”). I think this is the route Schumer will take, if he can herd all of his cats in the same direction.

    The 2nd is by either doing away with the filibuster entirely (changing the rule that 60 votes are needed for cloture to end debate — as Bernie said: “arcane”). Or if not taking the “nuclear option” to entirely do away with the filibuster, to at least go back to its original iteration of requiring at least one Senator to continuously stand in the Senate Chamber and debate (speak) and other Senators had to be continuously on the floor or close by to be able to have 41 votes to block a cloture motion making continuing a filibuster much more difficult to sustain for more than a few days (See: James Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.”).

    I say do away with the filibuster now. And get on with business. Let’s not repeat the mistakes Obama and the Dems made in 2009 by endlessly seeking Repub support that was never going to come. The people gave the Dems the power, so use it (as the Repubs always do)! Let’s use it. Pass the things the majority of the American people want. Every mainstream economist, and even a few conservative economists, agree that now is the time to go big on stimulus. Then campaign on those accomplishments in 2022.

    Of course, doing away with the filibuster could and probably would come back to bite the Dems in the ass some day. But so be it. Contrary to McConnell’s blustering (the 1st filibuster didn’t take place until 1837), the Founders original intent for the Senate was not to require a “super majority” to get any legislation passed.

  13. The Republican Party of yore was a party. It had platforms and other statements of principles that I for the most part disagreed with, but it was a “party.” No more. It is now a meeting place for the rich and their congressional vassals to meet, and with the aid of ALEC and other Koch and Mercer fronts, hammer out what “the people demand,” invariably headed by tax cuts (though not for the people). Lately the “party” has elected a demented narcissist for the Oval Office and is now sporting gun-carrying members in Congress and an attempt to overthrow our government in a dying attempt to retain power.

    I have been predicting the demise of the Republican Party for years due to the demographics of ever more liberal youth and that party’s stands on wage inequality and other such social issues. Trump and Republican crazies now roaming free have accelerated that party’s return to the Whigdom from whose ashes it arose in 1854, and I now think that a new party based roughly on the old Republican Party model will emerge sooner than I had thought, but we Democrats need to be careful – that newly-founded Republican Party elected a president only six years later, a guy named Lincoln.

  14. Talking about the peoples business: I have seen memes on this topic before, but usually there is not a lot of data or analysis to back them up. Today the NY Times expanded on this topic, and I thought it was interesting enough to copy and paste the entire article onto my Facebook feed.
    The Economy Does Much Better Under Democrats. Why?

  15. I have to wonder if Todd maybe got into his hooch supply a little early this morning. Exactly when did Biden promise to the people of Georgia that they would get $2,000 checks “immediately” if they elected the two Democrats running in the Senate run-offs? Biden has always acknowledged having to go through Congress to get things done, including the $2,000 checks. And I don’t know how inviting 10 Republican Senators to the White House to talk about a Congress is “trying to bury the truth with propaganda.” Don’t we want both sides to work together? Last time I checked, the Senate is 50-50.

  16. I am not sure that the citizens of America are the “owners” of the government. There is so much corporate lobbying. There is so much inequity in wealth. Running for any government office requires a lot of money, too much.

    If citizens are going to “own” the government, we must have campaign finance reform and an end to politicized gerrymandering. And perhaps we then need term limits for Senators and maybe even, justices on the Supreme Court.

    I am glad that Biden met with the 10 Republicans. As usual the Republicans want to do too little for the people on main street.
    Hopefully, Biden wil not allow them to wreck his bold plan to help ordinary citizens.

    The Republican “tax reform” did too much for the wealthy and ballooned the deficit. Their assertion that an increase in employed citizens would take care of the deficit proved to be false once again. So now they worry about the deficit in the face of an economic crisis.

  17. I get it that Biden is trying to look for support among the GOP for his Corona Relief Package. At a certain point once the GOP starts resisting which they will, Biden needs to appeal direct to the voters in those Red States for what they can gain by the Biden Corona Relief Package.

    I have to think there are some GOP voters who would like a stimulus check totaling $2,000 and an efficient and fast means to distribute the Corona Vaccine. Biden needs to go over the elected Reactionary Right Wing Republicans and appeal direct to the Red Voters in Hooterville County.

    The filibuster needs to go. The filibuster is just one more way now McConnell and his fellow travelers can obstruct with their slash and burn tactics.

  18. Rachel Maddow reported on MSNBC yesterday about how Obama tried hard for bipartisanship in recovering from the previous Republican economic disaster and therefore his stimulus was much smaller than he and Democrats thought was necessary. That led to what Republicans then defined as the slowest recovery ever. (Of course, it turned out to be the longest lasting too which may just be indicative of the times when it recovered.)

    The real question is what additional monies in the pockets of consumers will recover the most small businesses (not the large businesses funding the GOP)?

    Republicans predictably are suddenly concerned about the deficit when created by government action like it was different than the deficit created by not collecting taxes from the wealthy and corporations.

    The GOP has switched from power mode rewarding their donors to blaming mode in their voter imposed removal from power.

  19. Pete – unbuckle your prejudice. Wean yourself from MSNBC truth.

    Many, many DEMs get huge donations from Wall Street and large corporations. The DEM$1400 handout includes money for families making 6 figures. When they got the money last time, they banked it (yes, real data on this).

    Get real – neither party is purrfect…

  20. A handful of billionaires and some large corporations believe they, rather than The People, are the shareholders, thus owners, of the government of the United States.

    Doubtful? Don’t be. But be certain that if those billionaires and corporations were forced to,

    But first, imagine we all wakeup one morning to the news that an alien force has taken over strategic areas of Earth and its atmosphere, and that the alien leader has made the populations of the largest countries on Earth the offer of being destroyed or accepting a market-price buyout for the whole and entire sovereignty of said country, and the offer would only be honored if you have properly signed and dated receipts for said ownership.

    …so, yes, if those billionaires and corporations were forced to, only billionaires and corporations could produce the required receipts.

    And I’m quite certain that such power players document and preserve — albeit in secret places — even the most dastardly of their transactions. Whereas the rest of us, as invisible rays reduce us to our basic elements, would be last seen waving worthless copies of the Constitution in vain.

  21. Ever since Ronnie the Refrigerator Hustler Reagan dedicated his impressive rhetorical skills to convincing people that “government is the problem”, Republicans have jumped aboard the train to nowhere to prove that government is unable to function in a way that helps the common man. With a boost from Newt Gingrich, they labored to show that their city on the hill was a den of thieves who could exploit all of government’s shortcomings by bad mouthing Washington and declaring themselves apart from the awfulness of taxes and bureaucracy and deficits. Unnoticed was the fact that they were embedded in the very system they sought to discredit and were, in fact, part of it – and they love their role.

    So they went out and found themselves a president who in fact knew nothing about government and was able to incite even more hostility toward it for his own benefit. Republicans eventually said, “Hey this guy is one of us” and began kissing his ring accordingly.
    But eventually Democrats surfaced once again to demonstrate that only government can get certain things done, like fighting a pandemic, and showing how to do them. Now we are engaged in a great battle of that war to determine whether this is a an unending cycle that has become more existential than ever. If Trump and the right-wing extremists and the Republicans who see this struggle as the future are not destroyed, or at least totally discredited in this battle, it may form the next great chapter in American history.

    With all its shortcomings, many of us cannot conceive of a form of government superior to democracy. Others who seem to favor autocracy haven’t or can’t think about it or talk about it in any constructive way. We are led by an old man who stands at the nexus of this sobering moment in history. In the next four years, we will learn whether he has the longevity, the energy and the wisdom to place us back on a train to somewhere.

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