February 12, 2013

Morning Line: How the GOP helps to build the government it claims to hate

Sam Smith - Reading about the latest example of Barack Obama's narcissism - if Congress doesn't do what I say, I'll just issue executive orders - brought to mind the degree to which folks like me belong to a rapidly disappearing minority: those still believe in tripartite government.

This is no longer even discussed much because those who control the public's eye and ear - the media and the White House - have no interest in the topic. In our grad school autocracy, underlying organizational principles now come more from the Harvard Business School than from the Constitution.

One of the ways that this is defended by those in power is to ridicule those who speak in favor of devolution. To even criticize executive power is to be a member of the Tea Party or some residue from the Civil War south.

This, of course, is nonsense, particularly because - unnoted by either politicians or the media - the Republican Party and southern conservatives actually are helping mightily to strengthen the autocracy and weaken its most potentially most important competitor, the Congress.

If Obama seizes excessive power it will be in no small part thanks to the mess that the GOP has made of Congress' powers to keep the White House in check. The extraordinary abuse of the filibuster and the endless childish antics of Boehner, Cantor et al have all assisted in strengthening the power of the President, both in terms of the law and the public's perception.

To retain any semblance of democracy, and a shared government, you need a functioning, powerful, and rational Congress. Instead the Republicans have drastically weakened the legislative branch giving more power to the very man they claim to hate.

This admittedly is not a new problem, as I wrote about in my book, Shadows of Hope, twenty years ago next fall. But few issues have so affected our government and attracted so little serious discussion as this one.

Sam Smith, Shadows of Hope, 1992 -The phenomenon of public impatience over the inefficiency and boisterousness of democracy is not new to the Congress nor to legislative councils generally. There is an excessive expectation of legislative deportment usually achievable only in the most undemocratic, corrupt or autocratic bodies. This public intolerance of what is often nothing more than healthy confrontation and necessary debate creates a covert bias  towards autocracy -- not for any ideological reason but simply because it seems more orderly and polite.

Since a tightly run executive can stifle internal debate and present a dignified front to the public, whereas Congress is always brushing up against anarchy and confusion, the White House often finds itself with a sizable advantage over the legislature. The President, for example, is in a position to present a “comprehensive” health plan to the Congress; but that plan will have to be reviewed by several separate and potentially contentious Hill  committees.

There are other serious handicaps the Congress faces, not the least of which is the growing territorial aggression of modern administrations  and Congress's limited skill in counteracting it. A particularly striking example is Congress's acceptance of the so-called "black budget" consisting of funding for intelligence agencies, the specifics of which (in violation of the Constitution) are unknown to most of the members.
Despite creation of its own technological and budget oversight agencies, Congress is still outgunned by the massive complexities of the executive branch. It suffers from the transformation of tripartite government into a form of mediarchy with the president as celebrity-king. It persists in arcane, pompous and pointless procedures, many faithfully transmitted to the public by C-SPAN.

The Senate readily consents, but rarely exercises its constitutional power to advise the president on treaties and appointments.

Congress weakens itself by the corruption it tolerates and the potential this creates for blackmail by the White House and federal police agencies.
It has largely given up its budget powers to the executive. It has drifted into an almost feudal dependency on the White House for the largesse of federal facilities and programs -- 47 states, for example, were on the take for the super-collider program and four hundred congressional districts got a piece of the B-1 bomber. Further, Congress has long suffered from leadership that is not only politically weak but stunningly uncharismatic. From constitutional powers to soundbites, Congress comes up short.

... With the breakdown of the political parties and congressional autocracy, individual members of Congress have clearly gained independence, but they lack a concomitant growth in power. The condition can be described by analogy:  if you go to a cathedral you are expected to keep the silence; if you go to a baseball stadium you may scream at will. In neither place, however, will your personal views attract much attention.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The war between the branches pits the hidden GOP Court versus the 10% approved Congress. Rather than burn Congress, the Court props it up on its knee as if a second entity. The erosion of separation of powers came when the Court abandoned the 200 year old political question doctrine, and now shares governance with the Executive. The Court uses bizarre expansion of rights from the Constitution to muscle Congress out of controlling elections, guns, corporate power, anything that is necessary to fascism. Americans deserve this theft of their birthright because they have no clue how a democracy works, in sharp contrast to 1857 when everyone was aware of what Dred Scott did, and were willing to fight a civil war over it. This time there are occasionally some well-surveilled protesters on Wall Street and not much else.