Friday, 24 May 2024

    Good Government by Peter O’Brien

    There’s an old adage that if something is “stupid but works, it’s not stupid.” There is, of course, a corollary, that if something is brilliant but doesn’t work, it’s not brilliant. This is particularly true with regard to government.
    The folks who cobbled together the Constitution understood this. In the Preamble, the goals are clearly stated: “…establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty…” To accomplish this they needed good government, something that worked.
    History has shown that governments are rarely good, if by good you mean accomplish the above goals. Governments can often be effective, sometimes terrifyingly so. Many dictators are very effective, but at the cost of justice, tranquility, liberty, etc. Examples abound: Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Pol Pot, just to name a few from the last 100 years. But most kings in history (no matter their title): Roman emperors, Tsars, the Emperors of China, or even the chiefs of various tribes all around the world. Kings, emperors, chief, etc., dictators by other names, function efficiently and effectively because there’s no process to check their power (they’ve eliminated it), and they can act quickly and without debate.
    Legislatures can often do the same thing when they’re allowed to act quickly, pushing laws through without reasonable debate, and usually without informing the citizenry exactly what they’re doing.
    On the other hand, most republics (and virtually all true democracies) have tended to be both inefficient and ineffective. Finding a middle ground, one which was effective and efficient (at least to some degree), providing real justice – and tranquility – while preserving liberty, that was the practical concern in creating our current system.
    All of which leads us to Congress. Much can be said in the negative about the specific performances of various Congressmen and Senators. And Congress as a whole has a less than exemplary record over the last 100 years in crafting laws that actually accomplish the goals as enumerated in the Preamble to the Constitution.
    We all have ready examples of bad laws that were rushed through and signed out before anyone truly considered what that law actually said. A brilliant idea in principle can be a horribly bad idea in fact. Drafting a law and passing it because the concept seems “good,” but before the consequences, the second and third order effects, are understood and debated, does not make for good laws or good government.
    To prevent this our government was created with a trick used before: two separate legislative bodies: the House and the Senate. The purpose was – and is – to make the passing or changing of laws a slow and deliberate process. Open debate is needed. The lesson of history shows time and again that “fast” government is almost always bad government. Laws passed in haste  – “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it” – inevitably are bad and expensive laws. And while the above is now defended as referring to moving beyond controversy and explaining the law to the people, that is precisely how the legislative process is not supposed to work. The bicameral system is intended to create friction, expose controversy, and provide the opportunity for everyone – to include the citizenry – to learn about what is in a bill before it becomes actual law. And allowing the majority to rule, while protecting the rights of the minority – whoever that might be. That is how Good Government works.
    Anyone who paid attention in an American Civics class knows this.
    But some who should – don’t.
    The longest serving Congressman in history is one of them, recently calling for the abolition of the Senate – and a radical alteration to, arguably the virtual destruction  of, the Constitution he swore to defend. While his comments at first might seem to be simply acerbic sniping, said for effect, he went on to criticize the Electoral college and the notion (embodied in the Senate) that the states deserve some form of equal representation irrespective of population, all of them concepts placed into our founding document to prevent not simply ineffective and hasty laws, but also to ensure that our individual rights are protected from an over-active legislature (and a tyrannical majority), unchecked by simple process. Slow and deliberate is just right when it comes to legislation. Sadly, terrifyingly, we have Congressmen who don’t understand the need to defend that process.