Published Jan. 15, 2012
I get it. You hate talking, reading or even thinking about politics. Why focus on big and tough issues when you can hang out with Kim K. via the TV or tweet about how interesting the regular activities of your day seem at the moment?
Frankly, I don’t blame you. Politics are messy. Politicians give you no reason to trust them. The whole game usually seems like it isn’t worth the effort. However, if there is any set of complex and difficult issues worth your effort, politics should be given priority.
If you can take a few minutes to think about issues fundamental to our society, however, I’d be much obliged.
Our political system encourages gridlock and makes governing very difficult. I’d like to persuade you that our messy system is working as intended and that this is for the best.
No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, I’m sure you’ve complained about “gridlock” in the five years. The most notable example was in the summer of 2009. You might remember the “sky is falling” type atmosphere that surrounded the debate over the Affordable Care Act, known by conservatives as Obamacare.
Barack Obama had just won the Oval Office. Democrats held majorities in both houses of Congress. Expectations were high that “hope and change” were on their way. America was going to be restored to her long lost glory.
Then, very little changed. Lacking the 60 votes needed to conduct business in the Senate, Democrats had to water down their healthcare bill. In the end, it resembled ideas produced by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Even then, it took the legendary ”Cornhusker Kickback” to convince Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson to cast the 60th vote for Obamacare.
While Rep. Michele Bachmann went wild and democrats acted like they’d been lied to by their president, very few people realized that our political system had done precisely what it was created to do. The Senate’s complex rules slowed down legislative work and forced the final product to be considerably watered down from its original intent. In case you missed the memo, people were seriously discussing single payer health care. Single payer or universal care didn’t happen, and it wasn’t because of Republican intransigence or a conspiracy.
The system, the man or whatever you’d like to call it, worked.
Our founding fathers, or what I’ve heard referred to in a college classroom as “racist, dead white guys,” had no inclination of allowing pure majority rule, or what Alexis de Tocqueville, a French political thinker and historian, called the “tyranny of the majority.” They would no more have mob rule than a hereditary monarch because neither bothers to justify action or respect liberty.
Those dead white guys knew that governing a big country was tough. To help out, they left a statement of intention: “In order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity preamble…”
The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution introduces a vision for our nation. Within the Constitution, power was explicitly divided so that no man or group of men could reign supreme over our nation.
What would respect for “Republican” institutional structures mean today?
To start, it would mean that the office of the presidency would stop its slow creep toward dictatorial power. George W. Bush had no right to condone torture. Barack Obama has no right to determine when the Senate is or isn’t in recess. Neither has the power to sign laws and then enforce them as they please.
A respect for the republic would include a desire to have active and powerful courts working to preserve liberty and slow the creep of state power. Unlike former House Speaker Newton Gingrich, judges would continue to be appointed for life.
Having immunity from political pressures is precisely why we give life appointments. Gingrich and his ilk’s proposals are pure populism and contrary to our nation’s most important guiding principles.
Unlike President Obama (and most preceding presidents, to be fair), this means a respect for the need for a 3/5 majority to conduct business in the Senate. Both parties use the filibuster and every other trick in the book to slow down the legislative process when they aren’t in power. This isn’t a bad thing.
The Senate, after all, is a body expressly created to prevent rapid and thoughtless change. Instead of rapidly passing legislation according to a tyrannical democratic majority, the presence of the Senate slows down law making and helps prevent terrible legislation from seeing the light of day. Congress currently holds an approval rating of 11 percent, yet people want them passing more laws. This is lunacy.
If we don’t trust or approve of congressmen and congresswomen, why on earth would we want them working to pass more laws? Wouldn’t that be like the Kansas City Royals consistently signing subpar and washed out players and expecting to have a good team?
Apologies to fans of the Royals and Congress alike, but that isn’t a winning strategy. Unlike the Royals, however, Congress and American citizens can change their ways and recognize the primary purpose of our federal government.
Argue all you want about your expectations of your government. Have the debate about the proper role and scope of government in people’s lives. Just recognize that the inconvenience you see in our modern political system is designed to protect your basic rights and liberties.
Embrace gridlock. Love the filibuster.