Is It Broken?

A causal story in Yahoo news caught my eye. It has to do with a botched ploy on the part of this Administration to sell guns to a cartel in Mexico in order to trace the movement of illegal guns and eventually prosecute the guilty parties. The idea went terribly wrong when one of the guns ended up killing a border guard and the Republicans are out to “get” the Administration presumably in behalf of the family of the man who was killed. The Administration is claiming executive privilege in order to keep secret the details of the story and the Republicans are going to take the Administration to court to force them to divulge details of the scam. The story reads in part,

House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday that Republicans are preparing to file a civil suit in an attempt to gain access to more information pertaining to the Justice Department’s botched Fast & Furious cartel gun tracking program.

We have heard this story before. The only thing that changes are the parties involved. I am not going to question the notion of executive privilege, but I want to note the extraordinary limits to which partisan politics has gone in the country. England has a system that allows the government to “dissolve” itself if it reaches an impasse and it is clear that is has ceased to function. We have no such proviso and it has come to the point that we are stuck in the rut of an intransigent political system where parties are “at” one another constantly and are therefore unable to come together to solve the problems the nation faces on a daily basis. All they seem able to do is to call one another names and throw stones  — or take one another to court at the nation’s expense.

The health care plan that was recently upheld by the Supreme Court is a case in point. It is going to be challenged by the Republicans — not because it is a bad plan (it is precisely the same in all major respects as the one Mitt Romney pushed through in Massachusetts) — but because it is plan pushed through by a Democratic President. Horrors! And now there will be a court case to force this Administration to disclose information that may or may not be of national importance. It doesn’t matter what the issue happens to be, one side or the other is going to throw stones and the other will necessarily respond in kind. And nothing important will get done.

The framers in their wisdom imagined a system that would be fluid and would make it possible to get things done, or the pieces would be changed. The electorate would be small enough and active enough and if politicians didn’t do their jobs they would be voted out of office. Term limits were not necessary because elections would happen on a regular basis: if a man [sic] is ineffective, he would be replaced. It’s that simple. One quick look through the Federalist Papers reveals the high levels of optimism and the obvious conviction that this system will work because elections would be a constant corrective.

As it happens, it is not that simple, because we now have corporations supporting wealthy politicians who find their niche in political office and cannot be removed with a keg of dynamite. The citizens of the country have become mere spectators of a comic spectacle, so far removed from what is happening in the seat of power that they are, in effect, disenfranchised. The system is broken. Clearly. The government ought to be dissolved; it has become stagnant and we are helpless to do anything about it.

We cannot really fault the framers. They wrote the Constitution for thirteen tiny, disparate colonies that regarded themselves as autonomous and were separated by distance, coinage, customs, laws, and at times even language. They couldn’t possibly have foreseen the present state of affairs. They never conceived of the power that multinational corporations would have to back their chosen men and women and accordingly never mentioned them in their writings. I have said it before and I will say it again. The Constitution is an obsolete document, remarkable as it is, and it is in need of radical revision. But that will not happen because those who might initiate revision are comfortable in their seats of power from which they will not, they cannot, be moved.


Same Old, Same Old

I have blogged about the lack of term limits in the Senate and House of Representatives. Others have expressed their dismay as well. It was clearly an oversight on the part of the framers and was corrected in the case of the President but not in the case of the other national offices. I have also spoken about the fact that the Senate ties the hands of the President and makes it impossible for him or her to do the job. This situation is simply exacerbated by the length of time many of the Senators remain in office.  I stand by my claims in that earlier blog. Henry Adams thought it a blunder of immense proportions and I would have to agree.

There is an obvious case in point as Orin Hatch, Republican Senator from Utah, recently failed in his attempt to win the endorsement in his home state and will have to run in a  primary to regain his senate seat. He’s a good bet to win for the seventh time. The man is 78 years old (which doesn’t seem so old as I approach that age) but it reflects 36 years in the Senate and tremendous power in the form of committee chairmanships. In fact, Hatch stands to be the chair of the Finance Committee if a Republican majority wins in November, which is likely with the economy in the fix it is in.

In any event, a story about Hatch tells us that The senator on the campaign trail has been promoting his potential ascension to the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee if Republicans win a majority in the Senate this November, something he emphasized in his last pitch to delegates gathered here Saturday.

“I’m not impressed by the title and neither should you be,” Hatch said prior to the first round of voting. “But believe me when I say that a strong and experienced chairman can make all the difference in the world,” he added to cheers from the audience.

The man’s a pro. “I’m not saying that it is important to have me in that chairmanship, but believe me it is vital.” This is what we call innuendo, and it is a powerful and persuasive rhetorical tool. It’s something like intellectual slight-of-hand. Now you see it, now you don’t. Clearly, Hatch thinks (a) that the Republicans will achieve a majority again in November, and (b) an experienced Senator like himself will be assured of the chairmanship of an important committee where he will be in a position to benefit those who vote for him. His opponent for the Republican nomination, being new to the job, will not. You gotta love it!

But we should have learned by now not to put much stock in what politicians say and while it is true that a veteran Senator has a much better chance of getting a key chairmanship than a new person, there is every reason to elect new blood into the Senate. The idea that  a man or a woman could remain in such a powerful office for nearly 40 years was never in the minds of the framers of the Constitution, who envisioned a fluid political organization with what Thomas Jefferson called a “rebellion” every 20 years. Though he may have been referring to Shays’ rebellion in 1787 which almost certainly hastened the ratification of the Constitution, he may also have meant a non-violent rebellion, a radical shake-up of the status-quo. This seems likely since in calling for a rebellion every 20 years Jefferson hopes to avoid “lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.” He was convinced, as were the others who were in on the founding of our Republic, that there would be change and that change would be a good thing.

As it turns out, of course, the Senate is filled with ancient relics, immensely wealthy men (mostly) who hang on to power like grim death. These days the job pays very well while in the early days it did not when it actually involved personal sacrifice. Perhaps that is why the framers thought people would not stay in office very long. In any event, today’s longevity is not the way it was supposed to be, and I say again that the Constitution is in need of serious revision to accommodate the oversights and the many violations of the spirit, if not the letter, of the framers’ original intentions.