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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Restoring Balance And Harmony (Part Four)

(Editor's note:  Our multi-part series on Restoring Balance And Harmony traces in part how we have arrived at the greatest concentration of wealth disparity in American History --- and constructs a practical solution.  The previous segment discusses the solution's first component. Part Four presented here highlights the solution's second component.)

As we have seen, the founding fathers entrust the legislative branch of government as umpire with the important if not unenviable task of steering the nation’s ship by making laws to promote the general welfare of its people as a whole.  Not surprisingly then, the solution for ameliorating the greatest concentration of wealth disparity in American History targets reform at the level of the legislative branch.

Specific reform addresses the legislative process at three critical junctures: first, before the legislator is elected; second, while the legislator is serving; and third, on the back end of the legislator’s term of service.

The first critical stress point --- prior to the legislator’s election --- is the subject of the solution’s first component.  Specifically, the elimination of gerrymandered legislative districts is discussed in the previous segment.

The second critical stress point concerns proceedings while the legislator is in office.  Consequently, the solution’s second component addresses the lawmaker’s seat, once serving.  That seat must be restored to a position of public trust from the anomaly of a fully evolved individual prize.  A place of profit must be restored to a post of honour --- meaning a post of service --- as originally designed.

How can this best be accomplished?  We can start by denying the lawmaker any privilege which is not the right of every citizen --- in a broad range of issues from working conditions to compensation to health care to retirement.  A lawmaker must be barred from voting on any proposed legislation which may affect his or her family members personally.  Special interest perks must be eliminated by use of a bright line.

This component will provide more than enough incentive, urgency and assurance that any disparity which needs fixing will be fixed.  The US Congress must no longer be maintained, nor should any legislative body, as an exclusive, closed door establishment paradise for its members.

Additionally, how can we best accomplish the goal of redirecting lawmakers to conduct the people’s business, instead of just stalling?  This great question requires an analysis of the function of the two branches in the legislative scheme.

On the one hand, the House of Representatives by its populist design stokes the passions of the masses.  It is the place where the great issues are designed to be bantered about openly.  On the other hand, the Senate is designed by use of calm deliberation to cool the passions of the House of Representatives, as by analogy boiling hot tea is cooled by transfer from teapot to cup and saucer. [i]

The Senate is not designed to be a wall.  But enacted since the time of the founding fathers, the filibuster has added an “unconstitutional dimension” to the legislative process.  Through the filibuster, a senator can talk indefinitely relative to a proposed measure to keep it from ever coming to a vote, thereby hijacking the very heart of the legislative process. 

The filibuster has been described as a peculiar institution responsible in large part for Congress’ failures, “purely and simply an undemocratic technique to permit rule by a minority.”  It has delayed --- for decades in certain instances --- passage of social legislation by the House and desired by a majority of Americans. [ii]

The technique serves to transform the Senate from a moderating force into an impregnable barrier, blocking the rising demand for social justice. [iii]  The result effectively transforms a designed cooling period into a protracted ice age.  This is not how the founding fathers have intended the Senate to function.  Consequently, its unrestricted use must be abolished.

(Editor’s note:  The fifth and final segment in this multi-part series on Restoring Balance And Harmony addresses the solution’s third component --- on the back end of the legislator’s term of service.  Should a lawmaker be permitted the right to serve indefinitely, for unlimited term or duration, in many instances for life?)

-Michael D’Angelo

[i]  Caro, Master of the Senate, supra, at p. 9.

[ii]  Id., at p. 385, 446.

The quote is attributed to the liberal US Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, Jr., D-MN, upon his election to the Senate in 1948.  Humphrey would later serve as Vice President during Lyndon Johnson’s administration.

[iii]  Id., at p. 83, 92, 105.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Restoring Balance And Harmony (Part Three)

(Editor’s note: The second segment of this multi-part series traces in part how we arrived at the greatest concentration of wealth disparity in American History. In Part Three, we begin to construct a practical solution.)

How do we restore meaningful equality of opportunity --- identified by Theodore Roosevelt as the third great crisis in our nation’s history?  Consider that the power to do so derives in the place from which all legitimate power originates in a democracy --- from the ballot box.

The solution is at the ballot box.  It involves strengthening the ordinary citizen’s vote to elect lawmakers accountable to the public interest.  Strengthened and unshackled, the ordinary citizen’s vote is bound to improve equality of opportunity over time.

The solution accepts the plain reality that the omnipresent “influence” which Thomas Jefferson first  identified cannot and should not be eliminated.  It can, however --- and must be --- reasonably checked.

This can be accomplished by insulating lawmakers from the pressures and corruptive influences of special interests in today’s money-craving, material society.  If the incentive for self-interest is effectively contained, chances are much improved that lawmakers will serve the people’s business, for they will be left with little choice.  The very idea of service can be made to mean service --- and only service --- once again.

The good news is that implementing a sound, practical solution is not complicated.  It also appears to be readily available.  Consider the following proposal, which contains three components, the first of which is discussed in this segment.

The first component is tied to the front end of legislative service.  Our democratic system is designed for voters to choose their legislators at the ballot box.  But lawmakers have long chosen their voters in a self-serving custom by drawing arbitrary, movable lines around voting districts to make them safe from challenge by the other side.  Its opposite the way it’s supposed to work in a representative democracy and therefore must be abolished. [i]

By way of example, in the 2012 midterm elections, Democrats receive over 1.4 million more votes for the US House of Representatives than Republicans.  Yet Republicans win control of the House by a margin of 234 to 201 [ii], using their distorted majority to frustrate the popular will on a range of important issues.  This is not democracy, certainly not the way the founding fathers have envisioned it.

To be fair, Democrats have reaped the benefit of this unfair and imbalanced system for decades prior.  The reality is that both parties are culpable.  Both share blame equally.  The system has evolved such that in the 2014 Congressional midterm elections, relatively few incumbents actually face realistic challenges.

The drawing of legislative districts so tightly in their favor to suit the pleasure of each party’s ideological base serves two efficient but self-serving, undemocratic ends.  First, the possibility of ouster is seen as being remote.  Second, the incentive for compromise in crafting national legislation is greatly reduced.

Put another way, primary candidates must pander to their party’s extremist elements.  To the frustration of the ordinary citizen, and the mainstream at the center line, the concept of partisan gridlock results.  And so it goes.

Moreover, Republicans in this instance now seek to extend and advance this system of cherry picking constituents to the presidential electoral college.  The scheme, initiated so that the loser of the popular vote could more easily win key states and the presidency, is an undesirable threat to representative democracy and must be strongly resisted.

(Editor’s note:  The fourth segment in this continuing multi-part series highlights the solution’s  second component.)

-Michael D’Angelo

[i]  On the federal level, the practice is popularly known as “gerrymandering,” or setting electoral districts that attempt to establish a party’s political advantage by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan advantaged districts.  The practice dates back to the early 1800s and was named for Elbridge Gerry, the Massachusetts governor who resorted to the practice by signing a bill that redistricted the state to aid his party.

[ii]  Wang, Sam, “The Great Gerrymander of 2012,” The New York Times, February 2, 2013.  ...  For an analysis of how voting districts are being made more “safe, lily-white” as the nation is becoming more racially diverse, see Friedman, Thomas L., “Our Democracy Is At Stake,” The New York Times, October 1, 2013.