You should know by now, after 10 years of blogging, that I am a pretty liberal Democrat, but also a democrat. The lower-case version is more important that the party affiliation, especially at the present time. All the ideologies and left-right tilts will not protect our basic freedom and the rights that constitute it. Now that the Democrats have recovered control of the House, the headlines have shifted a bit from concern over democracy to intra-party battles about how far to the left the Democratic party should be if they are to win the 2020 Presidential election.
This is the wrong battle. Before any debate and focus on policy differences, it is critical and essential to fix the broken governance system. Conservatives like to return to the past seeking wisdom, often invoking the Founding Fathers as the ultimate source of that scarce commodity. While I do not believe that originalism is the way to interpret the Constitution’s text sentence by sentence, we can learn much from the larger currents that ran through their deliberations.
One key idea was some system of checks and balances to protect against the passions of factions, simply put, those who put their interests over the common good. A second key feature was a bicameral legislative body to create the structure of laws necessary for a country governed by the rule of these laws. Quite a shift from the English system of judge-made laws creating the foundation. This was to be the most important part of the governance system. Next came the executive, but of lesser importance that the Congress, and finally the Supreme Court.
Given the huge change in the world since 1787-8, it should not be surprising that the relative importance of the three branches has shifted, with the Executive becoming the tail that wags the dog. But the dog still needs to be alive and barking for the system to be protective of democracy and the common good. The Judicial branch has, arguably, worked pretty well in spite of a history of intermixing politics and jurisprudence. Robert Dahl, a giant in the field of political science, wrote that the Court was always part political, but that “the policy views dominant on the court are never for long put of line with the policy dominant among the law-making majorities of the United states.” He wrote this during a period of many political changes among newly appointed Justices. Whether he is right now remains to be seen.
This leaves the third branch – Congress – in the limelight. It is broken and needs to be repaired if the triad of branches, as a whole, is to work. Whatever the causes, and there are quite a few, it needs to return to a body that focuses on the common good and not on the two opposing factions, the two political parties. This branch has become completely dysfunctional, putting party far, far ahead of country. The examples abound, but none so blatant as the refusal to consider the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice nominated by a Democratic President. Ideologies, buried in the political labels of the two parties, are nothing less than symbols for the factions that wave their clashing banners.
We should have learned by now that neither party has all the answers. Given the complexity and interconnected world of the 21st century compared to that of 1787, no one is going to have all the right answers. This reality demands a more pragmatic Congress, one pretty much like that envisioned by the Founding Fathers. That reality also demands honest debate, the only way to find one’s way in the maze of complexity.
There is a strong belief among many critics of our Government, on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum. that the problems that are crippling our system can be solved only by creating a new constitution. Maybe in the long run, but, in this matter, I will call myself a conservative. First look back at what the framers did and why and give that another try before diving into what are bound to be murky waters.