Given the open hostility Republicans have expressed toward entitlements, particularly Social Security, it’s guaranteed that party leadership is discussing ways to reduce spending for the SSA. In particular, the disability program has been the subject of a great deal of scrutiny, as we discussed here. What if Republicans fail to cut Social Security? Evidence exists of fraud and abuse within the system, so their talking points should be a breeze. Can’t the establishment talk to key members in Fox News to drum up opposition to entitlements?
Maybe they can’t.
Federal politics baffles me. Take marijuana, for example. Study after study demonstrates that the public favors legalization. Yet, moving marijuana from Schedule I to a less restrictive classification is not going to happen. In fact, it’s so hard to get pot off of Schedule I that President Obama resorted to using underhanded anti-prosecutorial political tactics to softly decriminalize it. Theoretically, legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana should be a softball for the federal government. Moreover, we have a very liberal Democrat in the White House who openly admits to using marijuana in the past. [By the way, you should check that last link. It turns out that Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of all politicians who’ve admitted to using pot.]
Regardless of your opinion on pot, the point remains that legalizing it is politically impossible even in the face of overwhelming support. The federal government is not a functioning entity. If politicians cannot legalize a drug that is overwhelmingly favored by the people, then it’s pretty obvious that we do not have a functioning democracy.
This may be a feature and not a bug. Remember, the founding fathers were not all that enthralled with democracy. Of course, we the people love to pretend that our votes matter, but never forget that the country was founded by a large collection of wealthy, landed-aristocrats who generally distrusted the great unwashed masses with important decisions. Many forget that the original Constitution only had one democratically elected branch of government: the House of Representatives. The Senate was elected by state legislatures and the President was (and is) elected by an electoral college.
Moreover, power was split between the branches. The judiciary was in charge of… Well, that’s hard to say. Ask John Marshall and he’ll say that they exist to declare things unconstitutional. Consult your Constitution and the original text basically only talks about treason, impeachment, whining between the states, whining among the ambassadors, and a few other random subjects. Yet, we generally say that the Supreme Court has the power to strike down unconstitutional laws. That power is nowhere in the Constitution, but we generally go along with it in the wake of Marbury v. Madison just because Justice Marshall pulled a humorous fast one over Thomas Jefferson’s head.
The House of Representatives has its special powers, such as originating the budget. The Senate is generally in charge of ratifying treaties. The executive’s powers are ill defined in the Constitution, but clearly include the powers vested in the commander of the military. Except Congress passed the War Powers Resolution Act. Somehow Congress also has some power over the commander in chief. I’m still not sure how that’s Constitutional.
None of this works very well. That was by design. The government was designed to operate against itself. The legislature is divided in half and neither the House nor the Senate work well together. The executive basically does whatever it wants until the legislature says otherwise. The judiciary has no money or army to back up its powers, but we choose to believe that it has some ability to determine whether laws are legal or not. For some reason we listen to them even though there’s nothing in the Constitution requiring either the President or the Congress to do so.
And that’s our government. It’s really amazing that anything gets done at all.
Why did the framers create the Constitution like this? Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Power accumulated in the hands of a very few tends to serve the interests of those who wield the power rather than those who do not. As a result, the safest way to ensure freedom for the most number of people is to spread power among various factions in order to limit any particular faction from wielding too much power. Rather than limiting corruption, the framers decided to limit power. The framers understood that corruption is endemic to government. As such, they declined to put meaningless rules in place designed to ensure transparency and honesty. Rather, they put rules in place designed to feed on our leaders’ natural political instincts to accumulate more power.
The genius of the American Constitution is that each branch of the government seeks to secure as much power for itself as possible. Since power is finite, this necessarily means that the other two branches of government wield less power. This is what we refer to as our system of checks and balances. The government doesn’t need watchdogs in place to ensure that power remains evenly distributed. What it needs is politicians to seek out power at any cost.
It’s almost as if our government was designed for politicians. Whereas Romans planned a great city, our framers planned a great system of power. It’s impressive that it’s lasted as long as it has.