What exactly is the purpose of the separation of powers? Some two hundred and twenty-seven odd years ago, it was the security deposit we set down on republicanism. The division of authority in government, setting branches against one another in a healthy tug of war, all while being made to mind the inclination of the voter, was the safety valve of a healthy republic. No I’m not talking about democracy, which is really the overly lauded majoritarianism of rent-seekers and ideologues, but instead I’m speaking to the necessary requirements of republicanism. Republicanism is really the model for governmental efficiency, and the optimal scheme for protecting and enlarging the sphere of liberty and opportunity that all citizens can come to enjoy.
Congress has an important part to play in this republic, especially considering that the most direct outlet of republicanism is the expression of the people’s general will through their representatives, and that this representation is the only direct and legitimate method of checking the power of bureaucratic rent-seekers and executive-branch abusers.
F.H. Buckley, an academic from the law school at George Mason University, the institution that has famously economized on costs while still hiring luminaries such as Gordon Tullock and Nobel laureate James Buchanan, wrote a masterpiece titled The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America, warning of the enlargement of both the far-reaching powers of the administrative state and the aggrandizement of executive power. While there have been more than enough book reviews of Buckley’s more recent work, I use the book more as a commendable reference guide and legally-minded review of the recent abuses and trends of the anti-representative age.
What are we to make of the dilemma that naturally presents itself when considering, in rotation, a competent Congress and an incompetent executive, which then gives way to an incompetent Congress and a competent executive, and then more often than not, presents complete incompetency in all venues? There is a tendency, which exists on both the right and the left, to simply discard that inoperative side of the partisan aisle more riddled with inefficiency than the other, and move forward with the work that needs to be done. Ah, the wisdom of technocrats. This is the reasoning behind Barack Obama’s efforts at subverting the proper congressional channels. We see it not only in the complete disregard for the letter of the very Affordable Care Act law that the President proposed and passed, but also in terms of the steadily increasing delegation of a branch’s proper authority to bureaucracies, which allows things like the unconstitutional flooding of borders with refugees (just or not, there are proper channels for immigration policy.)
This all means a lot in terms of what we can look forward to in potential future leaders’ methods of governance. What is the most outrageous example of bad, non-transparent government action? Quite clearly, it is Hillary Clinton’s abuse of power, her storage and then erasure of emails kept tucked away on a private server she had designed specifically for the purpose of concealment, and then her refusal to turn over those emails, the content of which may have provided clarity and insight into the myriad cover-up scandals of the Obama administration.
Not to come off as obnoxious, or to sound an alarm that others have rung repetitively, but: Richard Nixon was chased out of office for doing exactly the same thing. Concealment.
After her server was purportedly wiped clean, Clinton’s lawyer, David Kendall, announced with seeming indifference that none of the desired emails would be accessible. This is just one more example of the shackled impotence of a Congress romping around in a helpless confusion that reminds one of a decapitated chicken. Whether they subpoena, demand, harp and harangue, the end result is simply nothing. We know nothing about Hillary Clinton’s servers. We know nothing about Benghazi.
People say that House Republicans are nothing but hot air windbags. For the most part (although often enough, for the wrong reasons) those people are right.
Further from the domestic sphere, we have the foreign policy arena. No congressional approval of the Iran deal means, once again, no involvement on Congress’s part. This is concerning a treaty addressing the nuclear capacity of a terrorist state that is almost certain to surreptitiously shuffle highly destructive arms into the hands of Shiite religious maniacs. No voices heard, no objections registered. By the way, media sound bites are not the same as legislative objections. The opposition must be more fervent, more active, more serious about its obligation to help prevent the calamities barreling towards us like ballistic missiles.
Although the voting public was supposedly outraged by the upper chamber’s letter to Iran warning them of making a non-binding deal with President Obama, Senator Tom Cotton did the right thing: he penned a note advising an enemy state of the reality of the situation. Senator Cotton helped to put Iran on notice, to let them know that any deal is reviewable, any treaty amendable.
Any missive advising the terror state of Iran that a final nuclear treaty would be subject to review is evidently seen by Democrats as a Logan Act violation worthy of being deemed treasonous. A legacy of non-enforcement of the Logan Act aside, not to mention the untested constitutionality of the act, I tend to agree with Jonah Goldberg, who wrote: “Obama is the commander in chief of the armed forces, not of the co-equal legislative branch.”
Why might some citizens have been upset about congressional meddling? Here’s one theory: the American populace tends towards ignorance and instantly reacts to headlines. Democracy, the propaganda (yes, you heard me) of the 20th and 21st centuries, is not the correct conduit for the exertion of a country’s best energies. Republicanism is, and that is how the country was initially designed.
A majority of people in this country might want to voice their general displeasure in any given matter. They might arouse themselves to a violent clamor, demanding the avoidance of war, demanding that they accrue benefits – gratis — to their government-linked bank accounts, repetitively citing the Fallacy of Democracy: that anything is a legitimate political goal if most people want it and vote on it. So, it is easy to forget the difference between a majority vote and a truly republican, philosophically democratic guiding political thought. Part of the job of Congress is to remind the people that they have an obligation to republicanism, and that Congress is their ground-level enforcer for the promise of republican government.
Sometimes, leaders have to tell the people what they should want. That is the job of Congress, a job that they aren’t doing right now. History bears out the necessity of strong leadership. That’s why we went to war for independence despite the vast majority of colonists being opposed to it, that’s why Jefferson took down the Barbary pirates and completed the Louisiana Purchase. That’s the reason James Polk carried us (jingoist that he was) across the plains from Atlantic to Pacific, and that’s why Reagan took an economically stagnating country and transformed it into a competition-loving collection of free-marketeers. Even the supposedly liberal-leaning techno-cognoscenti of Google and other “socially conscious” corporations like Starbucks are as economically driven as the average Joe Schmoe.
Unfortunately, people are now much more likely to show deference to the administrative state, that unwieldy shadow bureau that has more direct bearing over their life. They are more likely to cower before the IRS, which is the actual police and government power that citizens must answer to on a daily basis. Right now, the administrative federal government’s response to congressional authority is more a matter of the abstract: they’ll respond only when they really have to. Agency costs, you know.
The willing relinquishment of authority is not the only byproduct of a weakened Congress. There is also the degradation of the prestige that used to give heft to the House and the Senate. Congress is mostly seen as being a weak institution, a five-hundred-plus body of obstructionists and weaklings, a parliament of whores and fools. Is this assessment wrong? If Congress fails to check the power of a reckless executive, then we shall know.