Jean Yarbrough makes a very apt comment on Powerline, in reference to the recent stories on the obscene and lawless bullying of the entrepreneur who brought Buckyballs to market, and the similar IRS bullying of the True the Vote leader:
We need an updated online primer in American government and political thought. We all learn about the separation of powers and federalism, but don’t understand that these restraints do not operate in the administrative universe. Indeed, the administrative state was designed to overcome these obstacles. Our mission should be to educate Americans on the real effects of this turn toward administrative regulations and rules.
I’ve been thinking this for years. I’ve taught American Government 101 courses at various schools, and while it was a relief a few years ago to finally get a really excellent textbook, the one by Bessette and Pitney, I felt I still lacked a real account of the bureaucracy. Yes, Bessette’s and Pitney’s text truly gave the founders their due, encouraged good citizenship in a genuinely compelling way, and subtly exposed the massive amount of judicial reshaping of our constitutional order in just the last fifty-years, for which we should be forever grateful.
But I felt it didn’t really meet the need in this area, and Jean’s right. The gap between the theory of The Federalist and such about our government, and how it really works, especially with respect to the bureaucracy, is a deadly barrier to effective (i.e., non-cynicism-inducing) civic education. I may get praise from students and parents of all political stripes for including lots of The Federalist in a 101 class, but I feel I’m letting them down in that I can’t get student understanding from there to, well, here. Something about my teaching is Unreal.
Bureaucracy not my area of expertise, however. Can our readers point to readings and books—those of the most student-accessible kind–that would be included in the online primer Yarbrough envisions?
And here’s the dicey thing. Profession of a REAL Science of American Politics will have to seem partisan. Real teachers will have to say: here is the betrayal and transformation of the Founders’ envisioned system most liberals have been committed to from FDR on. They should make the best case for why liberals have thought the transformation might be necessary, might not be a betrayal, and especially, might need to be cloaked from the public, but they will have to ferociously attack any account that denies or obscures the reality of the transformation, particularly in the area of the bureaucracy, attack it as being FACTUALLY WRONG (and likely deliberately misleading) about the fundamentals of American Government today. Of course, while some liberal-inclined experts will meet them half-way on admitting the transformation, the more typical response will be: Partisan!!!
Well, that’s more than a merely dicey thing, but points to the frustrating likelihood that Real teachers of how American Government works can seldom be hired or maintained by most Government departments, insofar those departments are Real about how academia works.
Little did that Schoolhouse Rock boy of our more innocent 1970s days know that when grown-up, bills and laws would matter less than he had been taught, and things like the danger of being Buckyballed (not to mention bankrupted, every last one of us!) by the real PBS (Public Bureaucracy System) would matter more.
Oh, and here they are, from the olden days a few years ago when Buckyball wasn’t a verb denoting a particular sort of 21st-century American bullying, but a noun denoting a product it was still feasible to sell: