Monday, October 7, 2013

Wow, Just...Wow

I think it is inarguable that our Founding Fathers demonstrated amazing clairvoyance when they  established the legal framework for our fledgling country. The United States Constitution is a remarkable document, and as it was originally conceived our system of government made possible the United States' rise to economic prosperity and the highest standard of living the world has ever seen.  I say "originally conceived" because our government no longer operates in the manner envisioned by its founders. Unfortunately for us all, the extremist views which have come to dominate American politics are exposing some of the flaws inherent in a representative democracy.
 
Congress' approval rating hovers at about 10% currently.  10%.  Almost no one in this country thinks Congress is doing its job well. We are disgusted by the inability of Congress to advance the agenda of the American public.  We complain, we talk about "throwing the bums out", and we dream of ways to make Congress share our pain, but is there anything that we actually can do to bend Congress to the collective will of the American people?   In discussing Michael Kammen's 1988 book Sovereignty and Liberty: Constitutional Discourse in American Culture,  Edward A Fallone, Associate Professor at Marquette University Law School writes this about the pre-Constitutional debate on popular sovereignty:  

On the one hand, some argued that popular sovereignty was largely a myth, and that the sovereign power of the people only manifested itself on the specific dates of regularly scheduled elections.  In between these elections, went this argument, the sovereign power to govern rested solely in the hands of those representatives of the people who had been elected by the voters. In opposition to this view, many argued that the sovereign power of the people was in fact very real and that this power was exercised on an ongoing basis even during the period in between elections.  As I have explained in this article in the Wake Forest Law Review, conceptions of limited government in America rest on the idea that the people are the ultimate sovereign and that government only possesses the powers that are delegated to it by the people.  The recent growth of the Tea Party movement in the United States is an expression of the resurgence of this basic concept in contemporary political discourse.  Central to this idea of delegated authority is the principle that elected representatives must act in accord with the wishes of the public, and that the failure to do so is in and of itself sufficient grounds for that representative to be recalled before the end of their term in office.

Recall elections in this country typically occur only in cases of criminal conduct, but if you subscribe to the belief that "elected officials must act in accord with the wishes of the public and that failure to do so is in and of itself sufficient grounds" for recall, then Congress' 10% approval rating seems indicative enough of public disaffection to warrant a wholesale recall of the entire body. Why then, has this not happened?  Why do the American people not exercise the power that rests with them when the collective opinion of the populace is that Congress has failed utterly "to act in accord with the wishes of the public"?

For all of the nonsense that gets posted to Facebook (no, Congress did not exempt itself from the Affordable Care Act), for all of the made-up quotes, outright lies, distortions, and perversions of the truth, Facebook is wildly successful as a medium for the dissemination of information. It is a forum where the tenets of populism and libertarianism find a receptive audience.

One of my Facebook friends made the following post:



Is this true?  Wikipedia states that "failure to get the annual budget bill approved by the Knesset by March 31 (3 months after the start of the fiscal year) also leads automatically to early elections."  If true, it would appear that job security is tied to performance.  We also hold our elected officials accountable for their performance but we deliver the verdict only on election day. That's too much lag time.  Furthermore, even  those we vote out of office are eligible for a lifelong Congressional pension after only five years in office.
 
The Founding Fathers did not intend for politics to be a lifelong profession, yet that is what elected office has become. The actions of our elected officials are governed by a desire to remain in office, to make happy their constituents even if those actions run counter to the national good. The Founders intended for national government to be limited in power and scope and for power ultimately to rest with the people. Government now is an unimaginably huge colossus with an insatiable appetite for power and money. In the desire to have someone else deal with our problems we have allowed this to happen. This lack of personal accountability is a national failing and threatens to be our undoing.
 
The flaw in the system is that laws are enacted by those we vote into office and it is not likely that these same people will vote to limit the powers they have created for themselves.  Would these annual stalemates take place if they received no pay while the government was shut down or if the inability to agree on a budget meant that all members of Congress would have to stand for reelection after a period of time with no budget? Would the national good be better served if political office was not a means of enrichment but rather a duty? That's what the Founding Fathers thought.