Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Checks and (Im)balances

Even as a Republican, I find no fault in a Democratic majority in Congress. Such an overwhelming and near super-majority, however, has the potential to become a foundational problem unique to the republic that is this country. The genuine problem exists, regardless of the party in majority, because the Madisonian system of checks and balances within the federal government is pushed completely out of balance. As it is, the legislative branch and its substantial majority is running in tandem with the executive branch rather than keeping the other in check, deficit spending is completely out of control, unsustainable levels of spending are being initiated, and the polled majority of Americans is completely disenchanted and disenfranchised.

"But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government …This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other -- that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State." – Federalist #51

What happens to the republic, then, when one branch of government virtually surrenders its constitutionally imposed independence from another, even by a vote of the people, to the point that there is no distinction between the two and the minority is all but ignored, regardless of the ideal or principle pursued? James Madison held, seemingly in spite of the intent of the Constitution as expressed in the preamble to “promote the general welfare”, that the rights of an individual should not be usurped.

It has been expressed by the so-called “Tea Party” movement that individual rights are being trampled in favor of the “general welfare” by way of the continuing debate on health care reform. The polled majority clearly rejects any and all government mandates in health care or health insurance matters, yet the majority in Congress seems to be following lock-step behind the president in seeing to a $1 trillion government-sponsored health care/insurance package that compels participation even by those who do not wish to participate. It is, as expressed recently by one speaker in the finest tradition of the Revolution, “taxation without representation” as we are forced to participate or help to finance such an aggressive government mandate.

There can be no easy answers to the dilemma now faced by the Republicans in Congress and those they have been elected to represent. As it happens, the party not in majority is always accused of being that “fly in the ointment” by which progress, in whatever form, is slowed. But when “progress” runs away so callously and so aggressively as to reject, ignore, and dismiss the concerns of those in the minority, we witness again the tyranny of the past by and through which the nation rose up in defiance. Reasonable men did not prevail, and needless bloodshed ensued.

Surely we can do much better today, especially in matters of health care, but such efforts toward a genuine greater good will require honor rather than power, an attribute I fear is in short supply even among the honorable due to the preponderance of anger and vindictiveness.

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