Curing Majority Faction Mischief
As the recent federal "shutdown" and the possibility of Washington defaulting on its debt fade into history, the chattering class turns to preventing future similar crises. The consensus is that "something is broken" (usually thanks to the demonic Tea Partiers) and therefore should be fixed. Nothing is broken; today's critics just need some history lessons regarding the U.S. Constitution and how far current political understandings have strayed from what our Constitution permits.
The Constitution was never designed to facilitate curing the ills of society -- creating a government to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and otherwise march to Utopia on the installment plan. The pursuit of such lofty aims is not explicitly forbidden; rather, those admirable aims are not the Constitution's paramount purpose. If the Founders wanted a government capable of fixing our ills by decree they would have instituted an absolute monarchy and then hoped for the best.
What overwhelmingly animated the Founders was the fear of tyranny. Hardly hypothetical; all had witnessed it firsthand under British rule. Yes, the government by Santa Claus flush with cash may be wonderful but the Founders well understood that Santa Claus could go bankrupt and instead of bringing the gifts and then retreating up the chimney, he would move in permanently and eat the host out of house and home.
Here's the hard part. The Founders fully recognized the dangers of a republic. From Roman times onward the lesson was indisputable: the hoi polloi, ever so easily seduced by facile promises, would eventually vote themselves into an orgy of spending to be followed by chaos and bankruptcy which, inevitably, brought dictator-imposed law and order. This fear was hardly hypothetical -- states under the Articles of Confederation regularly just printed up money to placate ravenous popular appetites, and brought "...spectacles of turbulence and contention... incompatible with personal security or the rights of property" (Madison in Federalist #10).
Madison and Hamilton in The Federalist Papers struggled with this eternal quandary and offered two solutions. First, if the craving originates from a minority then majority rule is sufficient protection. But, and here's the killer, what if the majority is out of control and is willing to sacrifice, in Madison's words, "...the public good and the rights of other citizens"? Madison in Federalist 10 offers a possible solution: "...the majority, having such coexistent passion or interest, must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression."
In other words, government should not be obligated to embark on ruinous policies simply because a majority wants them. Establishing this anti-populist fact hardly requires peering into Madison's inner thoughts. The Constitution's very design, from Article I, Section 9 to numerous prohibitions to the Bill of Rights are but measures to thwart majority passions.
Now, it might be argued that this anti-majority bias is antiquated, unsuited to modern society, a recipe for untold public misery, and all the rest, but the power to frustrate absolutely remains inherent in the Constitution and no amendment or court interpretation has altered this reality. That historical reality acknowledged, it is bizarre to imply that House Republicans were, in some sense, out of order, acting in ways beyond the boundaries of American politics. Yes, one can reasonably insist that ObamaCare was an ill-advised choice of where to draw the line while hints of blocking a new debt ceiling was equally unwise. But, possible tactical ineptitude acknowledged, GOP behavior was exactly the response Madison had in mind when he outlined how to combat the dangers of majority faction. Why else have a Constitution with multiple built-in emergency cords to derail the Gravy Train Express?
To appreciate Madison's anti-majoritarian solution to republics spending themselves into chaos, consider alternative remedies. What about enacting a balanced budget Constitutional Amendment? Just try getting a two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress and then three-quarters of all state legislatures to turn off the endless-entitlement spigot. Even if enacted, it would undoubtedly be filled with loopholes and Congress would just push things off the budget. Indeed, the political landscape is littered with past legislative measures to impede overspending and cut debt and nothing has worked. For better or worse, one house of Congress "shutting down" government is the only option that is both legal and effective. Just what Dr. Madison prescribed.
To those who might doubt the legitimacy of what the GOP did, imagine if the shoe was on the other foot and some future president called for legislation requiring all K-12 schools receiving federal money begin each day with the Lord's Prayer and the Senate acquiesced?
Here's what today's big government liberals really want: an unencumbered executive-led populism, or what the Founders would derisively called "democracy."
It's hardly difficult to achieve. Just choose a chief executive in a way that automatically gives him or her loyal legislative majorities, fire up the Treasury's printing presses and then stand back as Santa Claus works his magic. W.C. Fields once said that giving up drink is easy -- I've done it a thousand times. Ditto for promoting unchecked populism. Contemporary Africa offers multiple easily copied templates.
Now from the calling-a-spade-a-spade department: let those enraged over GOP obstructionism read Article V of the Constitution. It permits the calling of a new Constitutional convention that can rewrite, top-to-bottom the current "old-fashioned" obstructionist-friendly document. Just eliminate all the current Constitution's anti-majoritarian features to permit today's "compassionate" electorate to elect an all-powerful chief executive to put the Gravy Train Express back on track.
Needless to say, this will not happen, but that's not the point. The goal is to expose what today' liberals really want but are too timid to admit. So, to make this insatiable thirst plain, let Ted Cruz draft a new Constitution and solicit signatures from critics of House obstructionism. Let signatories explain why, contrary to centuries of past experience, we longer have anything to fear from an insatiable majority faction. One can only imagine if the reaction of the Founders if they were alive.