Thursday, October 03, 2013

Civics 101

Because I have a lot of free time not going to National Parks this week, I've been listening to the radio even more than usual. The other night, I heard an interview with one of the Republican House members who've "reluctantly" forced a partial shutdown of the Federal Government. I was interested to hear what would be said, because obviously no one can admit the real reasons for doing shenanigans like this (cough... greedy lust for power... cough). Pretty early on in the interview he said, "I wasn't sent here to shut the government down, I was sent here to run the government more efficiently."*

With that, I flipped the dial and turned off the radio. That pretty much sums up all the problems right there.

Now I'll be optimistic and say I don't think this US Congressman is under some delusion that it is the job of the legislative branch to run the country (efficiently or otherwise). I'm pretty sure he knows what separation of powers means (although there's this nagging suspicion in the back of my mind that it's just as likely 90% of our elected officials have no idea about anything beyond what their aides give them in a thin manila folder every morning).

What I'll argue instead is that Congress (and by this I mean any Congressperson of any party, not just the particular nincompoops on the hot seat at the moment) banks on two things: 1) most Americans have no understanding at all of Civics and are blissfully ignorant of what their elected officials are supposed to be doing; and 2) that they'll be able to get away with whatever they do get away with simply because anyone charged with holding them accountable is functioning in the same opportunistic manner.

If you recall third grade, or maybe the 8th grade refresher course, the US government has three branches: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. The Legislative Branch (Congress) is charged with making laws. The Executive Branch is charged with carrying out (executing) those laws, essentially running the government. As bloated as it has become, the entirety of our Government bureaucracy falls under the Executive Branch; the government may make reports to Congress, but it reports to the President.

Congress has already way overstepped the bounds of its authority - passing bills with volumes of notes and directions to essentially tie the hands of the Executive Branch, giving no leeway for practicality or creativity in carrying out the laws. Instead of providing wide boundaries and goals for the functioning of the nation, Congress essentially makes our civil service corps robotic drones, carrying out orders with such specificity I wouldn't be surprised if the font choices on government forms are codified in law.

This is also why the President tends to meddle in the legislative process so much. There's really nothing else for him (and it seems like they've all be "hims" so far - although I have my doubts about a few: I'm looking at you, "James" K Polk!) to do once the laws get passed besides sign them and avoid lusty interns late at night.

This terrible conflation of the intended order came about, inevitably, because people with power want more of it and everyone, it seems, willing to go through the public flogging of an election campaign, wants to be in charge of the world, not just one half of one third of 1/435th of it.

No one trust each other. That's really the crux of most problems in the world. And it feels like the end of the world if someone breaks our trust - so we withhold. (Maybe we need a National Psychologist to manage our collective phobias and foibles?)

On top of this, we have a Judicial system that is decidedly passive. I know that will come as a shock to all those reliably railing against "activist" judges, but our judicial system won't even comment on anything without a suit being brought. They keep quiet unless asked to speak - and even then, they're pretty, well... judicious. In some systems, if the Judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, sees something fishy happening, they'll just speak up and stop it. Here, ours only steps in if someone asks. I'm not even going to comment on which one is better, simply that our system is less than convenient - the one group that could play referee won't (partly because both warring sides are too scared to lose to even ask).

So we find ourselves with a dysfunctional system, lacking accountability of any kind, overrun by moneyed** interests and power-hungry egotists. I'm not sure why anyone is surprised by the follies that come out of DC or why anyone feels the need to defend any of them.

Just remember, the system we have is the best in the world - in the history of the world - it might not be perfect, but it's better than any alternative. In fact, don't even bother researching or experimenting with any alternatives, just take our word for it, this system rocks. Even with all its faults and failures, it's the best we're ever going to get, the pinnacle of human achievement. Seriously. I promise.

*I included the final clause "more efficiently" to accurately quote the man, obviously the focus and heft of the statement is on "running the government."

**Did you know that's how you spelled "moneyed?" Me neither. At least we all learned something from this post today.

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