Jay Cost writes The Real Price of Politics in The Weekly Standard.
Too often, debate over what government should do takes place in the abstract. But the particulars of the American system are relevant. Our government was never meant to accomplish the grand, bold tasks that both sides today believe it should. There is a reason why Congress and the courts, for instance, have had to expand the meaning of the interstate commerce clause almost to the point of absurdity: This is the only way around what was intended to be, and was sold to skeptical citizens at the time as, a limited grant of power. And the institutional structure of the government—a president, the courts, two chambers of Congress, all connected via checks and balances—was designed to manage only those limited powers.
What we the people have done over and over since ratifying the Constitution is expand the power of the federal government without revising its structure. Americans started doing this all the way back in 1790, when Alexander Hamilton read the Constitution as granting Congress the power to charter a bank, even though the Constitutional Convention had voted down that very idea. As Washington’s reach has been extended, instead of overhauling the structure, we have merely tinkered at the margins, modifying the Electoral College, instituting direct election of senators, limiting presidential terms, and so on.
The result is a profound mismatch. We expect an essentially pluralistic government to behave as a national one. It cannot do this, and so public policy is characterized by inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and even at times injustice.