With the cap-and-trade bill passing the House, Obama’s health care plan gaining heft (at least in pages, if not in votes), and our nation’s balance sheet spurting more red ink than a B-grade horror movie, it’s time to ponder how fundamentally our system has failed us.
Since the advent of the New Deal and the attendant evisceration of most constitutional limitations on Congressional authority by the Supreme Court, we have proven incapable of reducing the size or improving the performance of government — even when majorities of the public have expressed their will to do so. That is largely because public officials’ interests are at odds with taxpayers’ interests. Politicians must justify their existence and want to expand their power; citizens want to pay less for government while having it do more for them.
The result has been a shift in the tax burden to an ever-shrinking share of the electorate, so that politicians can play with the most money while incurring the wrath of the fewest voters. Similarly, voters have often vacillated between candidates who say they will accomplish big things and those who say they will spend less of their money. Those candidates lose when either the costs or the incompetence become too obvious to ignore. Thus, politicians hide the costs and the failures in ever-more-byzantine bureaucracies and budgetary schemes, many of which are now becoming painfully apparent.
While none of us were alive to remember it, there was a time when voters and their public servants did not dance to this discordant tune. Candidates simply understood that the federal government was incapable of acting in certain ways, no matter how much its participants might want to do it. The elimination of these structural (i.e., constitutional) limitations on government power meant voters were the only thing standing between the politicians and their desire for power was the people. Ergo, politicians set to snookering the people. The results have been consistently favorable for the politicians in terms of power-accumulation over the long-term.
This trend has given rise to an unmistakable frustration within the electorate — that “something” isn’t right, and that no matter what they do at the polls, things seem to go wrong (for them, anyway). This unarticulated discontent, in my view, would best be satisfied by restoring (or creating) structural and constitutional barriers to power-seeking among politicians that would passively protect the public from abuse by government. In short, voters would agree to limit their (and their representatives’) freedom to choose for protection against abuse of that freedom.
Limitations on freedom, you say? Surely this cannot be conservative. But every limitation in the Constitution is a limitation on the freedom of either the electorate, its government, or both, to take certain actions the Founders believed to be inappropriate. For example, the Founders chose to prevent the states from raising armies or entering into foreign treaties. That limitation, by its very terms, prevents the voters of Vermont from demanding that their officials enter into a treaty with Iran, or the governor of Texas from raising an army and going to war with North Korea. But the Founders designed the system to limit those powers, because they had seen them fail in the Articles of Confederation and knew that the federal government must be the nation’s only face to the world. No one today bemoans South Carolina’s lack of a foreign policy, but these limitations were controversial within ten years of the ratification of the Constitution. Similarly, we limit the freedom of individuals to vote for the same person for President three times; we limit the freedom of states to impose poll taxes; and we limit the freedom of government to take individuals’ property without compensation. One can justify the exercise of each of these freedoms in certain circumstances (a great President; a means of paying for an extraordinary election; an urgent need for food by a cash-strapped government in time of war), but we the people have chosen to ignore those circumstances and establish the general rule, because on balance it is more conducive to good government.
In this spirit, I propose five new amendments, intended to make our government run more effectively. Although my personal principles run to the right, I don’t think these rules would necessarily result in a more Republican government — just one more capable of being run as a republic. The first of these is detailed below, but more will follow in subsequent posts.
1. Repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment
The Seventeenth Amendment abandoned the practice of the election of Senators by the legislatures of the several states and provided for the direct election of Senators by the public. This has perverted the federal system in two significant ways. (more…)