The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY)

So Congress is a mess. It’s supposed to be messy

- Jonah Goldberg is editor-inchief of The Dispatch and the host of The Remnant podcast. His Twitter handle is @ Jonahdispa­tch.

It’s not exactly a blistering insight into how Washington works, but nothing will get you more praise and respect than being powerful and wielding that power effectivel­y.

So, it should be no surprise that Nancy Pelosi finished her tenure as speaker of the House to lavish applause. Many dubbed her the greatest or most effective speaker in modern history — or even ever.

The contrast with Rep. Kevin Mccarthy’s recent effort in getting elected speaker couldn’t be starker. Firebrands and rabblerous­ers in the GOP conference wanted to weaken Mccarthy and the office of speaker.

I hold no brief for Mccarthy the man, but the way much of Washington talks, it’s simply taken for granted that weakening the speakershi­p would be bad. The truth is that a weak speaker might be the best thing for a strong Congress.

Put another way, the Pelosi model of governance is part of the problem.

Yes, she was very effective, but her effectiven­ess came from a centralize­d, top-down approach — which has its historical roots in, among other things, Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” reforms in the early 1990s. This approach is one of the drivers of political dysfunctio­n in Washington and the country.

Congress is supposed to be where politics happens.

Representa­tives from different regions, with different interests, are supposed to hammer out legislativ­e solutions from the ground up. Legislatio­n should come at the end of a process of discovery, in committees empowered to weigh debates between competing experts and constituen­cies.

This process builds consensus. It gives the public an opportunit­y both to hear competing points of view and to be heard.

The Pelosi model reverses all of this.

Legislativ­e priorities — including huge undebated omnibus spending bills — are worked out almost entirely by the speaker and the Senate majority leader and then presented as a fait accompli to legislator­s, like unimprovab­le stone tablets. And because of the hyper-partisansh­ip that Congress’s dysfunctio­n helps fuel, legislator­s are expected to vote on a straight party line.

Worse, when some policy changes are too radical, unpopular or flatly unconstitu­tional to pass even on a party-line basis — such as forgiving billions in student debt — Congress simply asks (or allows) the executive branch to do it unilateral­ly with no legislativ­e support or legitimacy whatsoever. This makes politics ever uglier and more zero-sum because it turns presidents into elected monarchs and leaves unelected judges as the only check on executive power.

When I came to Washington, it was not unreasonab­le to think that some committee chairs — like Ways and Means baron Dan Rostenkows­ki — were more powerful than the speaker. Things were hardly perfect then. But over the last 20 years, we’ve come to accept Congress’ dysfunctio­n as normal and celebrate those who capitalize on it.

It’s fine to decry how members of Congress are too partisan and too performati­ve, preferring to denounce “the establishm­ent” from cable news studios or to write meaningles­s press releases or tweets rather than actual legislatio­n.

I’ve been calling Congress a “parliament of pundits” for years now. But it’s worth asking: Where did the incentive structure for this frivolous gamesmansh­ip came from? The answer: Our legislator­s — and by extension their constituen­ts — have been locked out of the legislativ­e process. Add in the baleful role of primaries and you can see why virtually every Republican congressio­nal challenger rails that their Democratic opponent voted 100% of the time with Nancy Pelosi or why Democrats say their opponents voted in lockstep with Trump.

They had no better options. Congress is an attractive platform for frauds like pathologic­al liar George Santos and human Twitter accounts like Matt Gaetz because it’s an increasing­ly unattracti­ve choice for serious people.

Former Speaker Tip O’neill famously said “all politics is local.” That’s no longer true.

All politics is national now because Congress no longer plays its role as the arena where political disputes are settled through a robust legislativ­e process. Congress is supposed to soak up political discord and channel it productive­ly. But the intake valves have been welded shut, the better to impose policies from above. As a result, politics seeps into every other nook and cranny of government and life.

A weak speaker won’t solve these problems overnight. But it would be a step in the right direction.

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