The framers of our Constitution established three independent branches of government – Executive, Judicial and Legislative – each charged with unique duties and vital responsibilities. However, it is the Legislative branch that has, of late, become alarmingly partisan and increasingly dysfunctional. It demands a closer examination. Made up of the Senate and the House, it is responsible for passing laws in order to preserve and protect the ideals guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence. All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights – Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Abraham Lincoln reflected the Founders conviction that freedom and equality can endure only when rules of governance arise, “…of the People, by the People and for the People.” However, to prevent legislative overreach, they designed a specific procedure that Congress must follow in legislating. It is a tedious, plodding and often infuriating process. Tempers flare but both sides must persevere until a compromise is reached and their constitutional duty is fulfilled. Winston Churchill opined, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.”
Extremism is not new in American politics. Both Democrats and Republicans have pushed their agendas far beyond what most view as reasonable or reflective of the promises laid out in the Declaration. The sole function of laws is to to maintain the delicate balance between two extremes. Strive for the middle ground where the vast majority of a population dwells. This notion dates back to the ancient Greeks. Plato connected the ethics of moderation to constitutional doctrine. To paraphrase, a democratic state is structured to find the middle ground between the extremes of mob rule on the one hand and tyranny on the other. The great majority of Americans are fair minded and compassionate but the machinations of the extremes must be kept from usurping the will of the majority.
The current ‘State of the Congress’ is a result of a dramatic changes in attitudes, priorities, and a persistent disregard for the spirit of the law. With an approval rating of 13%, how do these members remain in office year after year? What gave rise to such a dysfunctional body?
First, the focus of legislation has shifted from guarding the well-being of its citizenry to focusing on retaining seats in Congress. The great leveler in our government has always been the ballot box and the concept of majority rule. All people being equal, no vote carries more weight than another. The Declaration of Independence clearly states that, “Governments [derive] their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” In his novel Animal Farm, George Orwell personified a population that toppled a dictatorship to form a democracy. Orwell masterfully personified a corrupted and contradicting version of equality. Yes, all are created equal but some are more equal than others. Increasingly, and for a variety of reasons, that version is gaining more prominence in out governance.
Who among us are more equal than others? Here is a start. Money in politics has a long and jaded history. Protracted campaigning necessitates an unrelenting search for funding. Traditionally, Republicans have tended to pass laws more favorable to big business and the professional class. Understandably, their party has benefited greatly by the largess of the most affluent Americans. The Supreme Court decision to remove limits on spending by individuals, corporations and special interests freed up a major source of republican funding. Contributions to Republican candidates increased exponentially, further binding candidates to those with the deepest pockets.
Increasingly money was becoming more important than votes in elections. Nowhere was that more evident than in state and local elections. The majority party in each state controls its electoral process and is given wide leverage. They can design outlandish configurations of congressional districts to favor their candidates. They can randomly determine the number of polling places in each district and hours of operation. Their is no requirement for consistency. They can shrink the number of polling places and limit hours in highly populated minority districts of the opposition party yet increase each in less districts more supportive of their agenda. This power has been abused by both parties over the years and mocks the spirit of the law. It is a powerful tool.
In recent years Republicans have laid out a shrewd course . They have narrowed their focus and money on state and local elections. By capitalizing on the unique advantage parties have in state elections a given party can virtually guarantee its control of Congress. The Supreme Court ruling boosted their momentum. Millions of dollars, from like-minded benefactors, funded state and local elections. The number of Republican governors and assembly members increased dramatically. They may have to forego the Presidency but, with the control of Congress, they are positioned to stymie the Democratic agenda. They can and have gone so far to shut down the Government and continually threaten to do so. Their latest act of defiance came with a 25 billion dollar price tag for American tax payers.