Thursday, February 23, 2012

The US Congress is an Embarrassment to Democracy

In his introduction to the Federal Papers Alex Hamilton made the following statement.

“It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to thepeople of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the importantquestion whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or rather are they forever destined todepend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”
At the time of his statement the success of a democratic government was widely felt to be impractical. There were no democracies. Outside force was required to maintain existing governments. American had a hugh responsibility to prove that people could govern themselves without a king or dictator.

Through the 20th century Americans could proudly proclaim that they were proving their point. Although there were problems their democratic system was effectively governing itself. As we began to absorb the 21st century however the failure of our legislative branch became obvious. It is beholden to moneyed special interests and completely remote from the responsibility of guardian of the public good envisioned by the founders.

Sadly, our system is also is locked into a two party system that greatly restricts the citizens’ ability to replace the offenders. Congress currently has an approval rating of only 9% and is generally felt to be the most inefficiently managed in US history. To reach this sorry state we have ignored the basic advice first given to a Chinese city government over 2600 years ago by a student of Confucius .

“The greatest fortune of a people would be to keep ignorant persons from public
office, and secure their wisest men to rule them.”
Because wisdom brings truth and honor while ignorance brings lack of understanding and disaster this is a must for a long term government. It is difficult to maintain if the voting population accepts ignorance. If you follow current Congressional hearings you will be shocked by the level of ignorance that is displayed. This is reflected directly into performance. It must be corrected if we are to reach the long term success that Hamilton was seeking. Although some obviously ignorant candidates were defeated in 2010 elections there also were many elected.

Voters must now face the aggression of the superpacs. They thrive on voter ignorance and our inability to identify half truths. They are only available to moneyed candidates and are generally pushed by narrow minded ideologues. They are a great source of revenue to the media.

We are indeed facing a challenge to the question of can democracy survive or is it being replaced by a pseudo democracy that cannot govern itself. We must all pull hard to keep the 2012 election worthy of our obligations for the future. This requires a special attention to truth, a rejection of ignorance, and detailed attention to the general good of the citizens. Above all, investigate the voting record before you vote for an incumbent.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Post Constitutional Rule Making- A Conspiracy Against The Majority?

This Congress has proven one thing-the system as it is now being implemented doesn’t work. Congress, with a public approval of only 11%, has become useless in solving the nation’s problems. Further, the problem is not with the Constitution but the post constitutional rulemaking of Congress. To understand the situation you must consider that there are really two sets of rules running our country. This article gives some useful details.

The Federal Constitution contains first of all a set of rules that are the constitutional law behind congressional procedure. These are rules that regulate the operations of the government as directly specified in the document. To change these rules requires an amendment of the Constitution in the manner specified in the document itself. The second sets are procedures also necessary for governance but which are too voluminous to be specifically written into the Constitution by the Founders themselves. Ideally these procedures should provide the detailed follow-up required to implement the Constitution. They are established by subsequent legislatures and should follow the general intent of the founders. Establishing this boundary is difficult and was worked on diligently by the Founders. Unfortunately subsequent Congresses have created a management nightmare that has had a terrible effect on how we are operating our government. It is not the constitutional rules set by the Founders but the inept post-constitutional rule making that has brought our Congress down to a 11%approval rating.

We need only look at a few examples. One set of rules which has brought the organization to a halt is the requirement for a supermajority for too many actions. The Founders after long discussion decided on a 2/3 majority in overriding a veto and expelling a member and 3/4 of states in a constitution amendment. None of these requirements are affecting the management of Congress. Unfortunately future legislatures set an excessive number of actions requiring a supermajority in subsequent operating rules and procedures. This has created major operating problems where nothing can be passed.

If you look into the Constitution you find nothing about committee rules with chairman being appointed by political party; nothing about 60% required to override a filibuster; or of Congress taking all of the special privileges it has granted to itself. There are no provisions for the senatorial courtesy feature such as a single senator holding up an appointment. All of these anti-democratic actions that grant excessive power to a few over the majority are purely the work of post Constitution legislators-and far from the very democratic nature of the Constitution.

With such a terrible legacy of inefficient and bad management that has allowed a few to paralyze the majority Congress has become useless. There is indeed a necessity for an audit and review of the post-constitutional rules and procedures that have destroyed the Congress as a legislative body. That report should then be presented to the citizens for action.