Krauthammer & Me: The American Constitution Works
~by Tom Van Dyke
It’s ugly and it’s inefficient, but: Krauthammer echoes my own admiration for the American system of federal government—national, yet federal, as in sharing power with the more local level, the states:
"Of all the endlessly repeated conventional wisdom in today’s Washington, the most lazy, stupid, and ubiquitous is that our politics is broken. On the contrary. Our political system is working well (I make no such claims for our economy), indeed, precisely as designed — profound changes in popular will translated into law that alters the nation’s political direction. The process has been messy, loud, disputatious, and often rancorous. So what? In the end, the system works. Exhibit A is Wisconsin. Exhibit B is Washington itself."
I often read prescriptions for "reforming" the federal structure framed by James Madison, et al., usually tending more toward popular democracy and/or the parliamentary system.
Yet our House of Representatives, with its 2-year terms, already incorporates the best feature of parliamentary democracy, government responsiveness and accountability to popular sentiment. But, as states with term limits have learned, a revolving door of wave-riders and dilettantes is no way to run a government.
Enter the Senate:
Madison in the Federalist Papers, #62, learning from the great republics of Carthage, Sparta and Rome [explained in #63] that "The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions."
Hoo, boy, did Mr. Madison get that one right. A parliamentary system would have swept a Tea Party government into power in 2010. The Senate, and its slow turnover with 6-year terms per Madison was the only thing that held it in check, since a parliamentary system would also have swept in a Chief Executive with zero inclination to exercise his veto on anything they legislated.
Opponents of "gridlock" ought to thank their stars just about now.
To federalism—the sharing of power with the states: Up in Wisconsin we are witnessing the results of states as "the laboratories of democracy.” New governor Scott Walker arguably moved too fast along Tea Party lines versus the public unions. However, his Democrat opponents—in a state that Barack Obama carried @ 56%—used Wisconsin’s recall laws to put Walker’s impetuousness to the electoral test, but failed to refudiate him. Something’s going on in Wisconsin that the people like, or don’t hate enough to halt it.
Further, in 2006 then-Gov. Mitt Romney responded the will of the Massachusettsean people to "do something" about rising healthcare costs. Hence Romneycare, which either failed or worked depending on who you ask. [Note to self: insert links here. Self: Oh, let ’em google it for themselves. Most and the best of yr gentle readers are already up on it anyway. These are smart people. And the rest don’t care about facts anyway.]
Regardless, it was entirely proper for any governor of Massachusetts [the only state that voted for George McGovern in 1972] to be responsive to the will of its people, which was to seek a government solution. Hey, by some, many or most accounts, it works all over the Western World. Worth a try.
I do think the republic as planned over 200 years ago works—a combination of brilliance and sure, of luck. Our House has its thumb on the pulse of popular sentiment and new developments, a Senate to chill them down, and the states to give innovations a dry run on the smaller scale.
In that chokingly hot summer statehouse of Pennsylvania in 1787, with the doors and windows closed so no one outside could hear, Mr. Madison & The Framers done OK.
Next up: The Electoral College. Heh heh.