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Thursday, September 1, 2016
The Resurrection of Congress
Jon N. Hall
America makes much too much of the presidency. We have these epic-long campaigns that cost billions of dollars and still we end up with people we don't trust. Other democratic nations can be so speedy at getting new heads of state that it's easy to pine for a parliamentary method of choosing our president. Consider how expeditiously Prime Minister David Cameron was replaced after the recent vote on Brexit, which Cameron had opposed. Having been against leaving the E.U., he was at odds with the citizenry, so he had to go, and before you know it the Brits are being led by Theresa May. And when Neville Chamberlain was shown to have erred in judgment about Hitler, he was quickly replaced with Churchill. Members of Parliament were able to quickly settle on suitable new leaders; they didn't need input from the People in national elections. Of course, Cameron and Chamberlain had the decency to resign, which made it even easier to replace them. Resignations, however, rarely happen in America, where elected leaders cling to power.
Americans can be rather "proprietary" about their votes for president. But the People don't elect the president, the Electoral College does. And occasionally, e.g. 1888 and 2000, the College and the electorate don't agree. Because the voting in the College is winner-take-all in all but two states, one might be able to make the case that the president is the president of the several States, not the president of the People. If we had no Electoral College and presidents were elected directly by the People, the 2016 election would be closer than it is, and the "battleground" states would be much less important. Yet, Mrs. Clinton once called for abolishing the Electoral College. Ask her what she thinks about that now, and what she thinks about the states adopting proportional voting, rather than winner-take-all.
When the Electoral College is at loggerheads, the election of the president is thrown into the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1800, Jefferson was elected by the House, which inaugurated the 28 continuous years of presidents emerging from the grand old Democratic-Republican Party, the first Republican Party, aka the "Jeffersonian Republicans." (Perhaps Democrats should rename their Jefferson-Jackson Dinners). In 1824, when no candidate received a majority of votes in the Electoral College, John Quincy Adams was also elected by the House. And we shouldn't forget the tumultuous election of 1876, when the president was determined by a special Electoral Commission.
With the constant hoopla of the presidential campaigns that we've had to endure over longer than the last year, a visiting Martian might conclude that the first branch of the federal government is the executive branch, which the president runs. But it's not, at least according to the Constitution. Congress is the first branch of the federal government. It is Congress that is covered by Article One of the Constitution. It is Congress that has the power to choose presidents, when the Electoral College is stumped, and it is Congress that consents to appointed members of the other two branches. And it is Congress that can impeach and remove the president and other executive branch officials that it disapproves of, as well as members of the third branch, the judiciary.
Yet, Congress doesn't act like the first branch of government. And so presidents step into the void and issue executive orders and erelong we have an "imperial presidency." The president and the rest of the executive branch have become, in effect, the first branch of the federal government, and that needs to change.
America doesn't seem to be much of a "nation of laws" anymore; we're more of a nation of regulations, where unelected bureaucrats dictate to the People what they can do with their own land and what they must provide for their employees and what they must do with the money that the government allows them to keep. For instance, the Bureau of Land Management levies ridiculous fines on ranchers and even hikers (read about the BLM at The Daily Wire). The feds think America's ranchers must be "brought to heel"; so they fine Cliven Bundy of Nevada $200 per head of livestock… a day. Where does the executive branch get the authority to fine the Little Sisters of the Poor $70 million for non-compliance with ObamaCare? How do our pointy-headed bureaucrats arrive at such figures? Such outrageous fines are fascistic.
One of the few hopeful signs in deeply divided D.C. is the Senate's refusal to act on the president's nomination to fill the vacancy left by Justice Scalia. Finally, the Senate is acting like it belongs to the first branch of government. If Obama wants to fill the vacancy, then he should nominate a conservative to the Court. If another vacancy occurs on the high court and Obama refuses to nominate a conservative, the Senate should sit on that one, as well.
Americans have been fed this notion that Congress should "defer" to the president and that Congress is "obstructionist" if it doesn't grant the president everything he/she wants. That's anti-constitutional and post-American. The president is supposed to "execute" the will of Congress, not the reverse.
Would it be unthinkable if the House could have "votes of no confidence," like a parliament, and could summarily sack presidents who don't measure up? Given that the People have been voting for a congenital liar (video) who has committed the same vile acts that have landed others in prison, perhaps the House should elect all presidents. The House got it right when it chose Jefferson, so why not let them choose all our presidents? In any event, it's time for Congress to start acting like the first branch of government; time to revivify that moribund institution.
The power and prerogatives of the president and the whole executive branch of the federal government need to be checked and ratcheted back. We need to reinstitute the Office of Independent Counsel, or even a permanent special prosecutor, whose sole focus is corruption in the federal government. We need such an office because the Justice Department isn't doing its job. Mrs. Clinton clearly broke the law when she led the State Department, but the attorney general isn't prosecuting her. Nor does the AG appear to be pursuing the other officials at State that let Clinton for four years do the public's business on a private non-secure server. And now Clinton may be elected president. The Justice Department has become politicized and perhaps even corrupt, so we need a "shadow justice department" that reports to Congress only, not to the president, and which goes after government corruption only. I'd imagine some conservatives might not like this idea, but how else can we bring Mrs. Clinton and her kind to heel?
We make too much of the president. The media and party hacks tell Americans that "this is The One," our "savior," no one else will do -- this is the smartest person ever to run for the presidency, including Jefferson.
With the exceptions of Washington and Lincoln, no president is indispensable; they're all replaceable. But Americans are encouraged to think that only certain uniquely equipped persons are suitable for the office of president, that it requires some rare and specialized knowledge to do the job of president. "She's the best darn change-maker I've ever met in my whole life." Keep the change; I'll settle for a president who doesn't need to lie to me with every other breath, and who possesses at least a smidgeon of decency.