Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Bifurcated democracy

By Carl 

This was an interesting op-ed in yesterday's New York Times:

OUR nation isn't facing just a debt crisis; it's facing a democracy crisis. For weeks, the federal government has been hurtling toward two unsavory options: a crippling default brought on by Congressional gridlock, or — as key Democrats have advocated — a unilateral increase in the debt ceiling by an unchecked president. Even if the last-minute deal announced on Sunday night holds together, it’s become clear that the balance at the heart of the Constitution is under threat.

The debate has threatened to play out as a destructive but all too familiar two-step, revealing how dysfunctional the relationship between Congress and the president has become. 

The article talks about how presidents have decided to exercise power unilaterally, like Obama's Libyan adventures (although the practice goes back decades to Reagan and even Nixon,) while the Congress has been unable to rally itself to challenge the President's usurpation of power. Either the Congress is divided (like now) or reinforces the person holding the Oval Office (as under Bush the Younger).

This is what the punditry tells us we want, over and over again: divided government. Given what we've experienced for over three decades now (absent the six years of Bush the Younger) is this really what we want? An ineffectual Congress hamstrung by the tyranny of the minority and a Presidency who usurps power like a king?

Mind you, none of this is partisan: Republicans and Democrats have been to blame in BOTH branches. Clinton was forced to legislate by executive order, much as Obama is. Both Bushes declared wars without making a firm case to the American people as to the need for them (this wasn't dominoes toppling or any such credible threat.) Reagan tossed American troops around like candy and American armaments to enemies.

In Congress, John Boehner can't even get a centerpiece of legislation passed trying to keep the party's dog-and-pony show from tearing each other up. When Pelosi was in charge, she had to placate Blue Dog Democrats, rather than muscle them into line.

Hell, about the only thing any Congress since 1990 has been able to agree upon is that Bill Clinton needed to be impeached and a bunch of Asian deserts bombed!

This has effectively emasculated an entire branch of government. Power seeks a vacuum. It's almost understandable that the president would unilaterally legislate.

Plus, members of Congress don't have to take a stand on anything controversial. Take the EPA actions earlier this year to regulate greenhouse gases. Now, long time readers of this blog know there are few people more concerned with global climate change than me. Maybe Al Gore. So while I don't have a problem with Obama taking the bull by the fumes... so to speak... I worry about the fact that Congress didn't vote on this.

Note: it wasn't voted down. The bill stalled before a vote could be taken. It's probably still in the hamper, waiting to be aired out. Look at what this saves Republicans from, say, Montana, where people believe climate change is real and a problem. The party would insist they vote against the EPA actions. Their constituencies would say "We need a better Congresscritter." No responsibility, yet they can parade around touting how angry they are that they didn't get their say.

The more a controversial issue remains undecided, and the more critical that issue becomes, the less likely it is Congress will ever actually take action. And the more likely it is they will cede that issue to the Executive branch. Fine for a liberal like me when a semi-liberal like Obama is in charge, but what happens when another Dumbya hits the Oval Office? One a little more clever?

Congress will still feel this is expedient.

But it is unhealthy. It is unhealthy for an economy, it is unhealthy for a Constitution and it is deep unhealthy for a society and its people.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

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