When my little charmers, Hailey and Alyssa, start to argue over the television or a toy or some other daily occurrence there is an automatic response – “stop arguing”. Usually one of the girls will then try to blame the other for some unforgivable transgression. The response is “I don’t care which of you started it” followed by a command to “go to your rooms until BOTH of you can behave yourselves”. That’s where the argument usually ends.
The children fear isolation more than compromise. What it takes to enforce this discipline, though, is an adult. If only there were an adult in Washington, D.C.!
Political Party Versus People
I find it genuinely shocking that the President of the United States merely stood by and watched the Congress play a week long legislative game of “whackamoo”. Where is the adult who forces the House of Representatives and Senate to “go to conference” and find a compromise the American people can support?
This government shutdown is not just another bureaucratic pause – this is the end of government of the people, by the people and FOR the people. Instead we have a perpetual campaign were the power of the political party is the basis of legitimacy – rather than power derived from the governed.
If you’ve noticed a faint whirring sound in the background over the last few days, there is cause for alarm. It is the Founding Fathers turning over in their graves! The American Revolution was a rebellion against a parliamentary system where party loyalty was the primary qualification for candidacy because party majority was the source of exclusive power.
The Founders had endured such a Parliament and they were determined to ensure that the American government was truly representative of the people. That is why the President, the House of Representatives and the Senate are elected independently – using different selection criteria and with differing terms of office. The Founders deliberately attempted to craft a system that would prevent any single political interest from “running the table” – imposing tyranny of the majority on the people, at large.
The United States Constitution, itself, was the result of repeated compromise between the varying interests of the states represented. The large states population advantage (House) is balanced with the small state interests (Senate) to prevent any single interest from “running the table”.
The Founders were careful to enshrining the fundamental rights of citizens by establishing a very high bar to amend the Constitution. Article V of the Constitution requires that a proposed amendment to the Constitution be passed by 2/3 of each house of Congress, signed by the President and ratified by 3/4 of the states so that no single interest can “run the table”.
To further protect the people from capricious acts by their government, the Constitution established no similar obstacles on Congress to modify legislation or government budgets. The Founders assumed that if the people’s representatives were not responsive to the people, they’d be replaced at the next election. The newly elected representatives could change an unpopular law by working with the Senate – no single interest could “run the table”.
The Founders were neither naïve nor utopian. They understood the power of political parties to subvert the rights of individual citizens. With malice-of-forethought, they crafted a government intended to minimize what they believed was the corrupting influence of political parties.
Fast forward 223 years later, and we have the government they feared. We find ourselves with two political parties – each controlling one house of the Congress – locked in a children’s game. Our politicians find it impossible to share power – just as children find it difficult to share their toys. Each blames the other for the impasse.
The American people voted for divided government on purpose. Naively, they believed this was their only defense against a single political party or interest “running the table”.
Clearly they were wrong. The only defense is for the American people to act collectively to reduce the power of the political parties.
I’m not a utopian, either. I am a practical hard-headed business woman. I don’t think we can eliminate political parties from our politics but I’m optimistic enough to argue that we can hold them accountable to do our business – not their own. That begins when voters re-establish the direct link between themselves and the office holder – to paraphrase – “we put you in office and we can take you out of office”.
We can do that through social media – individually – and collective direct political engagement
We can do that by working state legislatures to adopt California’s top-two-finisher primary system.
I am happy to vote for a Democrat who can’t win without Republican votes – it forces him to represent us all. I am pledged to do just that in CA 17 next November!
Photo Credit: CNBC