Tuesday, October 07, 2008

And the Fun Continues

Another trillion dollars gone from the stock market. Where's the bailout? Who's going to accept responsibility for the bailout not working? I'll take a bet on this: President Bush, being the stand-up guy that he is, will get on the tube and admit the bailout didn't work before the Democrats (the problem is, what's he gonna say next?). The Democrats' reply message will be something like, "Well, yeah, it didn't work, but it's not our fault. It's the fault of overpaid CEOs, deep systemic problems in the financial system, and unscruplous lenders." They will not admit that their policy fix didn't work.


I got into a bit of a philosophical discussion with a friend today about government, human nature, and the American Constitution. We both agreed (approximately) on the following:

  • The current system is geared toward people skilled at getting and staying elected, not necessarily governing.
  • Power and resources (money) are concentrating into fewer and fewer hands.
  • Human nature tends to reach for more and more power.
  • The Constitution, understanding human nature, was established to limit the ability of individuals to seize power.
  • Unfortunately, the Constitution was established by an aristocracy of honorable men of similar social standing who created a government that assumed future generations of men like them would continue to run it. This process lasted as long as the Founding Fathers lived. Political leaders since then have spent the last 200 years or so undoing the careful structures the Founders erected to prevent centralized power.
  • The items above are not good for the Republic.

Why does this concentration of power and the direction of the Constitution matter?

Senators used to be elected by the legislatures of the states they represented. This ensured that said Senators would be more responsive to the interests of their states rather than some national party or constituency. The 17th Amendment undid this part of the structure. With more-or-less independent Senators, accountable only to their own attitudes, it became easier for lobbyists to focus on two people instead of multiple people in state legislatures.

Federal regulations and Supreme Court rulings also have done their part to reduce the power of the 10th Amendment...

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

...taking power away from the states.

And then there's the military. The National Security Act of 1947, changed the nature of the President's relationship to the armed forces. Prior to 1947, the President had control of the Department of the Navy, which handled seaborne and limited Marine engagements, while the Congress had control of deploying the Army, since it was assumed that the Army would only be deployed in the event of full-scale war. The 1947 Act put all armed forces under the Department of Defense, and the Department under the President.

The War Powers Act and the All-Volunteer Force, which were passed in 1973 as a means of preventing "another Vietnam," actually allowed Presidents to send American armed forces to more places without a declaration of war. The War Powers Act still allows the President to deploy U.S. forces for up to 60 days without consulting Congress and without a draft.

Understand that I have the highest respect for the U.S. Armed Forces. I couldn't cut it, doing what they're doing, and I salute them for doing it. But here's the problem with an all-volunteer force: politically, it is much easier to send professional soldiers than draftees. Again, the Constitution's system was set up the way it was on purpose. It was fine for the Navy to be under the control of the President because any engagements it participated in were necessarily limited. It was supposed to take a declaration of war before deploying the Army.

So anyway, now we've got social engineering, military, homeland security, regulatory, taxation, legislative, news media, and judicial powers concentrated in Washington. Thus a horde of lobbyists can more easily descend on one city and influence policy there rather than disperse to the 50 states and hope for the best. It's a matter for serious thinking for all voters, since both parties have contributed to this centralization, though most of that centralization can be traced to a party I haven't voted for.

And I, by grousing about sticking to the forms of the Constitution, am considered a right-wing nut job. Frightening.

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