Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Contempt for Democracy

What does President Bush’s decision to use money allocated to stabilize our financial system to bail out the car makers have in common with last year’s decision by California’s Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage? Both show contempt for the democratic process. In the former case, the President is asserting authority in domestic policy immediately after the House and Senate failed to do what he wanted. In the latter case, it is the Judicial branch of a state overturning a law passed overwhelmingly by the people. It is significant that both these examples are in domestic policy. Going back to President Washington, we have recognized that the President’s powers to act in foreign affairs are much greater than his powers to act in domestic policy.

The story of the 20th Century, from the Progressive era, is the story of the creation of an administrative state that takes legislation much less seriously than had been the case. A good case in point is that if President Bush goes ahead and uses the TARP funds for the car makers, he will probably be acting within the law. Why? Congress seldom writes laws these days. Instead it allocates swathes of power to the executive branch and executive agencies. One our legislators ceased to care about writing the laws under which we live, contempt for the democratic process naturally followed in the other branches. In that sense, I suspect, our new lawyer-President will resemble our current MBA President.

Discussions - 7 Comments

Would make sense if the Senate were democratic, or if the Republicans had allowed a majority vote. It's not and they didn't.

Brett, did you mean democratic with a small "d," or a capital "D"? Not being saracastic, I just could not tell, and it makes a big difference.

You want democracy now, but weeks ago when the people said no and the lawmakers said yes it was ok. Why the heck is a drop in the bucket amount such a big issue for the auto industry in comparison with the banker theft of trillions which is mostly sitting in offshore accounts. I don't think we have a democracy. If I understand the term then elected officials at least have to do what the people that elected them want. We have a republican form, that can not be any more clear than the passage of the TARP. God, the government loves little names.

Small "d." Where a clear majority of Senators (not to mention a majority of representatives based on population) want a result, it's not clearly undemocratic to effectuate that result.

Do the people who elected the representatives know what they want? The problem with democracy is that "the people" are not some cohesive mass that want something in particular. Some want this, some want that, and some want something else and all of those wants cannot be reconciled.

In addition, I begin to think that any form of government is only as good as the people available to run it. We can't do anything about that. We have no control over who is alive and available to us to lead or represent us in government. We must muddle through with who we have. And there, even if who we have will be responsive to the people, who can tell what the people want in the cacophony of their various expressed wants? The real issue is whether there is any way to discern what is actually good at the moment, which the even the majority of the people may not know any better than those who are supposed to be experts.

How have we ever survived with ourselves? I do not know that our government has so much a contempt for democracy as a bewilderment with it. To satisfy its various wants and demands, much less to have the wisdom to understand what it actually needs - maybe this is impossible. Elected officials turn to experts, who have facts, but usually no great wisdom, being just people, and we muddle on.

For all of them, you would think the goal would be to do no harm, in which case to err on the side of not meddling or regulating would be wise as no one can see the consequences of "change". But our representatives and experts must do something, in order to make us feel that we will all be safe. They must try to manage events and history, which are unmanageable. This gives us plenty to complain about. We pay those folks plenty of money to do impossible things and when they can't do those things, we feel free to complain because they are not earning their money by doing the impossible.

Today, it makes me laugh.

I really agree with a lot of what you are saying. There is no "the people." There is a guy in Oregon who wants beastiality legalized so everyone will not get everything. I caution the overblowing of this idea though, considering the switchboards at congress ran of the hook when it came to the TARP.

I challenge the idea that we need men to govern. What is wrong with using the great document to govern. The problem of interpretation is more one of double think I believe. I don't believe that we have the best people we can in power. There is no best man really, and this is were politics as a profession is a problem. We need to get away from the idea of public servants and start drafting local people we know and trust to serve in government as a duty and, in a sense, a punishment/reward for being good. What do the experts do really? Politics is about making descisions. There comes a point when action has to come down to a person. The experts job it seems is to corrupt facts, ect. in order to create a scenario that a desired action can be taken. What amount of schooling and education can really help a person when it comes to deciding things like acceptable causulty numbers and rather to torture people. These experts are the spin doctors. A moral compass does not come from a harvard law degree and ten years serving at the brookings institute. I resent the idea that great men are all gone, you are not looking hard enough. The problem is that its easier to throw up you hands and take the lesser of two evils. Its easier to alter you morals than change your party.

If you still believe that the goal is to do no harm then I just don't know what else has to happen. The goal is line one's pockets. We spent years making fun of corruption in banana republics and now the private federal reserve just took over the treasury and stole trillions. How do you fight the irrestible force? They control the media, the government, the military, intelligence, ect. Well start out, I think, by becoming an immoveable object that refuses to compromise your values. If that collection of imperfect beings known as the American people could just do this, assuming they have values left other than consumerism, then we have a fighting chance to enact real change. Refuse taking the government and the news seriously and look for a series of small victories that will add up to a better world for all of us. This is coming from the detached, ironic, apathetic generation so if I can believe it others should have no problem.

Even if the majority of congresspersons had an epiphany and decided to govern by legislating rather than delegating, I'm not sure that the outcome would be healthy political life. After all, legislating means making a rule for something (or regulating it, in the Constitution's term), and a rule has to be general and comprehensible -- i.e., simple -- in its terms in order really to be a law.

A good law about -- oh, I don't know -- banking, stock-trading, professional medicine, making and selling cars, or any other complex segment of our vastly complex market economy -- what would that look like, exactly? Framing a just, useful, nontrivial law about any of these things is such an intellectual challenge that it ought to give pause to any political attempt. Alas...

Our real political problem is one of fundamental philosophy: both our political class and our regular citizens want to govern too many things, things that cannot or should not be subject to force.


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