Parallel to the political punishments waiting for these folks is a constitutional crisis that goes to the very heart of our system. Modern governments – those that are truly “governments” and not party-driven totalitarianism like Bolshevik Russia or Nazi Germany – are systems of accountability and resistance.
Our constitutional framework, for example, provides a powerful restraint on national government by investing great power in state governments – much more than most nations. Switzerland, Canada, Germany, and Australia do this as well. The intention is to prevent the concentration of power at a national capital which, almost inevitably, will become over time arrogant and arbitrary.
These checks on government power were also welded hard into the federal government. The independence of the federal bench was intended to prevent government from reaching beyond the rule of law or the limits of the Constitution. Congress, divided into two very different chambers, was a check upon itself, but also a check upon the other branches, and especially upon the president.
Our Founding Fathers could have embraced a parliamentary government. There is nothing particularly wrong about that sort of government. In fact, every major democracy except America and France has all real power vested in the national legislature. In a parliamentary system, the leaders of the principal party in the best-populated branch of the legislature run the government. When things go bad, those political leaders are replaced, or new national elections are called.
Instead, we have a system in which the president is not a member of Congress; he is not the leader of the biggest party in Congress; he cannot even be a member of Congress, any more than a member of Congress can be part of the Executive Branch. Instead, Congress and the president are supposed to check each other, with each protecting us from the corruption and the incompetence of the other.
What we have instead is a wholly partisan but anti-constitutional system, reaching its dreadful nadir with Obama, in which the president dictates to Congress what bills it ought to pass and his partisan hacks in Congress defend him no matter what. We have all the problems of a parliamentary system – party ruling government and government scrunched into a single unit – without the advantage of full accountability of when things go bad.
Congress, invested with the great majority of constitutional power, has instead become largely meaningless. The exclusive power of Congress to make law has been compromised into virtual nonexistence, as “law” now comes from court decisions, regulations, executive orders – almost anywhere except by congressional action. Its investigations, which ought to pit Congress against the White House rather than Republicans against Democrats, have become little more than political drama, and Democrats in Congress reflexively defend whatever Obama or his puerile flacks do.
Congress is intended to fill the constitutional roles of investigator, prosecutor, and judge of presidential misconduct, which includes the cover-ups and lies of those who work for the president. The loyalty of members of Congress is to their arm of government and not to their party. When Democrats in Congress reject that role, it is as if police investigators, public prosecutors, and judges get together with suspects and coordinate a defense to questions of crime and corruption. Even more, when Democrats in Congress behave like cheerleaders for the suspected and accused officers of the Executive Branch, they abdicate perhaps their most important duty to the people under our Constitution.
One answer, not a good one, is to discard the increasingly notional independence of the branches of our government and instead adopt a truly parliamentary system. The president would be a member of the House of Representatives, and all his cabinet officers would as well, and all of these would serve at the pleasure of the House. Congressional elections would be held at least every two years but also would occur whenever a scandal or a collapse of policy by the government created enough ruckus to force wavering House members to abandon their leadership.
The best solution, which can only happen when a critical mass of congressional Democrats stop being field hands for Obama, is for congressmen to recognize that their office comes with duties that cannot be abandoned simply because shirking responsibility is more fun. Nixon left office forty years ago largely because Barry Goldwater, “Mr. Conservative,” bluntly told Nixon that members of Congress had a duty that trumped party. Is there any Democrat in Congress today so honorable and brave? So far, the silence has been deafening.
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