Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Government by the people

The danger of the excesses of presidential power accumulated by George W. Bush and his predecessors, Reagan and Bush I, is amplified by the reluctance of presidential candidates of both parties (other than Senator Dodd) to discuss undoing that accumulation.

Consider this excerpt from the book Broken Government by John Dean, discussing the concept of the “unitary executive theory,”

Conservatives carried it from the Reagan presidency to the Bush I presidency, and most recently into Bush II’s administration, expanding its reach and impact along the way. In its earlier phases, when it was limited to regulatory agencies, it did not go unnoticed by Bill Clinton; when he found it sitting on the shelf at the Justice Department, he could not resist employing it.” (emphasis added)

He goes on to say that while the theory was put in place by conservatives to reduce the impact of government, Clinton used it to increase the impact of regulatory agencies, but that is not the point of me citing the quote. The point is that once the power has been arrogated to the presidency it becomes permanent and any president is able to use it for any purpose.

It should be incumbent upon the next president to restore the office to its proper position of balance with respect to the other branches of government in accordance with constitutional intent, but what putative president will do so? Is Congress even able to do so and, if able, does it have the will and courage to do so? All of that seems unlikely in the extreme to me at this point.

In his book Mr. Dean suggests that Congress is in the process of repairing itself now that Democrats are in the majority, in that they have restored the deliberative process. While certainly that represents improvement, I’m not sure that I agree with his assessment.

Democrats seriously damaged the constitution by removing impeachment as one of its elements. I do not see any circumstances where it can be resurrected and, without it, the entire system of balance that the founders designed is weakened. Our present executive has committed demonstrable crimes, clear and stated violations of law, for which he will never be brought to account. Given that precedent, how can any future executive ever be brought up on articles of impeachment?

Mr. Dean points out that lobbying represents the constitutionally guaranteed right of the “citizen to petition his government” and is therefor not harmful, but nowhere in the constitution does it say that making that petition with cash in hand is warranted. Congress has outlawed free lunches and junket trips that amount to pennies, but is still feeding at the trough of campaign contributions that amount to billions of dollars. A Congress that passed the Bankruptcy Reform Act, which the last Democratic Congress did, is not acting in behalf of the people. (In case you don’t recall, President Clinton vetoed it and it languished until the Republican Congress passed it again for Bush’s approval.)

The Republican Congress failed utterly in its oversight role, but is the Democratic one really doing much better? They are conducting investigations that call no one to account, that uncover corruption but do not reverse or punish it, that serve only to provide campaign fodder for the investigators. What kind of hearing is it when the committee member (a Democratic one, I might point out) uses all of his allocated time to make a speech and asks not one single question of the subject? This is not the role that the founding fathers imagined when they wrote congressional oversight into the constitution.

That’s the Congress that John Dean says is repairing itself.

And it’s not just the governing process, it’s the electoral process as well.

Although not one single vote has been cast for her for in that role, it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president. This is the case months before one single Democratic voter has had a chance to express an opinion at a polling place. In the words of Eric Alterman in his Guardian column,

She began with the support of the Democratic establishment, at least a third of primary voters, a big advantage with women, who make up the majority of these voters, and by far the most experienced campaign organization.

That sounds like four things that she started with, but the voters he’s talking about are the “base” of the Democratic establishment. This “running start” that she has is the result of political maneuvering and has very little to do with who she actually is or what she really represents.

Further, she is becoming anointed by a media that fawns over her campaigning skills and swoons over how “disciplined” her performance has been in debates while lampooning another candidate for the price of his haircuts and discussing the “relative inexperience” of a third.

When we go to the polls to vote for candidates that we did not select we will do so on the heels of an inundation of “sound bite” advertising purchased with the cash from contributors with vested interests and the opinionating of the punditocracy whose lives are as divorced from reality as possible, coming from within the narrow confines of the Washington Beltway.

From the candidates themselves we will have heard nothing but carefully crafted sloganeering designed by the best campaign managers that money can buy, a series of empty promises that will be discarded as politically impractical within moments after the polls have closed. The winner will be the candidate who purchased the most “experienced campaign organization” as Eric Alterman so aptly puts it, or the most capable one, or the deadliest one.

In the last two elections it was not the candidate with the most votes.

So all of this is going to be magically fixed if we elect Democrats?

Electing Democrats is not going to get rid of the financial corruption that has infected our governing process, that causes legislation to be passed that is against the interests of the people and serves the interests of moneyed campaign contributors.

Electing Democrats is not going to change the corrupting influence of major coporate ownership of news and entertainment media. Democrats participated over the years in the deregulation that permitted this state of affairs.

John Dean makes reference to the founding fathers having designed the House to have a term of two years for the purpose of “keeping it close to the people,” but with the gerrymandering of districts and the institution of “safe seats” the House has become a good-ole-boys club with almost no turnover at all and our government is removed in its entirety from the people to a degree that would horrify the men who risked their lives to form it.

Our country is now governed by an elite and wealthy class that is completely removed from the general population; with income, health care and retirement benefits beyond the fondest dreams of those it governs. The governing class would not care about the concerns of the “common man” even if it were capable of understanding those concerns. It lives in isolation from the people whom it governs, and in so doing protects its own interests above the interests of those who are beneath its notice.

How do we fix this broken government? Well, we vote them out of office, Republicans and Democrat alike, but that is more easily said than done. Those in power have so rigged the electoral process that they often run unopposed. Replacement in less than wholesale fashion will not do it, since the best intentions in the world fall victim to “the system” once the newcomer is thrust into the ocean of cash and corruption that is the Washington political environment.

We need a revolution, not of guns and violence, but a rising up of the people of this nation demanding its government back – demanding that “by the people” and “for the people” be re-added to “Government of the people.”


  1. Anonymous4:52 PM

    one reason I did not like Pelosi is she is the same as the others in power; she said "this Congress will be the most ethical in history" or somesuch... and what does she do? she tried to appoint Alcee Hastings, an impeached former federal judge (whom in my humble opinion should never have been elected or even been allowed to be elected) to a committee on Intelligence - not an existing member (Jane Harman, a Democrat), highly regarded and respected memner by both parties. Why? JH didn;t toe her line, or pissed her off or something. JH was gracious about which proves which one i'd prefer in Congress anyway. Luckily, NP backed down from the publicity backlash and found someone else. We the public have become far too complacent about those we elect and have allowed then to usurp powers to help themselves - politically, materially, etc. Shame on us.

  2. Anonymous10:05 AM

    In the last two elections it was not the candidate with the most votes --- Actually, Mr Bush, did get the most votes, 50.7% and more than the required amt of electoral votes.

    The winner will be the candidate who purchased the most “experienced campaign organization" --- and yes, I agree with this one... all too much it has become a media circus/dogpile with "leader" being anointed by the media with no real basis (in my opinion). Especially lately, where so many start earlier and earlier.

  3. I had a feeling as I was writing it that it might be wrong. I'm surprised it took that long to catch me out. Damn. That's the second time since 1982 that I've made a mistake. The other one was a typo.