Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Why have Constitutional checks and balances not restrained Bush/Cheney?

Since Septerber 11 we have been watching Geroge W. Bush act as though he is not restricted by the rule of law or the Constitution. He acts as though nothing matters except his decisions. When the public or the media does not accept what he decides and does they attempt to question him, and he takes this querelous tone and begins to lecture as though he had thought it all through, decided, and nothing else needed to be done. The only reason people question him (he seems to think) is that they don't understant what he does. If they did they wouldn't bother him. That's why his hectoring lectures at his rare press conferences seem so strained, as though he was trying to explain the simplist ideas to people to stupid to catch on.

But what is really happening is that the U.S. Constitution with its system of checks and balances has failed. Bush has no concept of the checks and balances or what the rule of law means, and does not bother with such nicesities. This is the first time in American history such a thing has happened.

I think I know why.

Compare the current U.S. Constitutional system to the British Mother of Parliaments. The essential body in any democracy is the Parliament. The Executive must always be responsible to the Parliament. If the Executive becomes independent of the Parliament/Legislture the Executive Department will take control of the Parliament or restructure government so that the parliament becomes unnecessary. This eliminats effective democracy.

In a Presidential system, this Executive independence from the parliament has come about as a result of party control of both the parliament and the executive at the same time. Then the President retains all control of the Party. The Legislature ceases to perform effective oversight and passes any budget the OMB presents them. Control of what passes the Congress rests with the Congressional leadership, and the party members are bought off with a combination of campaign contributions and bribes so that they keep quiet. If they cause trouble, then they lose the campaign controbutions and pork for their districts or States that keep them reelected.

I am not a historian of the British Parliament, but I would bet that there were many times that the executive (the King/Queen) dominated Parliament much as the current American President is doing Congress. The only protection from that was for the Parliament majority to take control of the Executive, and place the two sets of powers into the same hands. That is the Prime Minister. This results in all power and legitimacy being placed with a single individual who, at the same time, takes all responsibility.

Our Presidential system attempts to place the sources of power into different hands in both the Presidential and Congressional branches, with Congress demanding accountability from the executive and voting for all revenue. But the party system is a way of going outside the government and having the same people actually control and direct those in the Executive and Congressional branches. It's only effective when the same party controls both branches, and when there is an effective parliamentary control by one party in each house of Congress. Parliamentary control occurs when all power to act is in the hands of the leatership and there is strong discipline over the members. This latter became possible in the House when Newt Gingrich eliminated Seniority as the only route to power as House Chairmen. The Senate followed suit shortly after the Republicans took it in 2000.

It seems to me that the U.S. Constitution and its Presidential system only works as long as effective power is diffused and spread out to a number of people with independent sources of legitimacy and incumbency in the executive and the legislative branches. The opposition party needs to have control of at least one branch of Congress to avoid a Presidential Monarchy.

Three things that previously prevented a single party from gaining the monarchical power the Republicans currently attribute to the President were (First) seniority as the sole route to committee chairmanship (eliminated by Gingrich) and (Second) the need for each Senator and Congressman to get elected on his/her own from their own state or district (eliminated by DeLay's K-Street Project and the Supreme Court’s decision that money in politics is the same as speech, so cannot be money cannot be controlled by legislation.) The third was the tradition of the independence of the institution of the Congress from the Executive Branch. This was eliminated when the Republican Party took control of all three branches.

A possible fourth element has been the geographical dispersion of the American electorate, but this has been politically eliminated by the spread of the Mass media, in the form of TV advertising and the national consolidation of the media into a few relatively easily controllable corporations.

This probably isn't all of it, but I think that we have been witnessing the failure of the U.S. Constitutional system of checks and balances. The problem here needs to be somehow fixed by a patch of some sort. It has been an amazingly good system for over two centuries, so it should not be replaced. - Just patched to prevent future takeovers of the current kind.

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