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Coming to Grips with Congressional Dysfunction

Since Narpac posted its strawman "Voters' Bill of Rights" in early September, we have focussed on joining the discussion on Twitter about concerns over on-going legislative dysfunction.  100-odd tweets later, the grotesquely embarrassing problems continue. There have been several major thrusts of our commentary:

Congress's peculiar interventions re the Syrian government's gassing of their own people, raised obvious questions about amateurish legislative interference in the global responsibilities of this World's primary power;

That said, Russia's President Putin warned Americans about the presumption of global "exceptionalism", and Narpac tended to agree. There is, in fact, plenty of evidence that the US is no longer as unique and exceptional as we might have appeared 50 years ago in the immediate wake of WWII. Surely, there is constructive competition from 33 other OECD nations who generally share our political/economic/ethical goals. Some, in fact, offer noticeably better socioeconomic success in areas ranging from household income, budgeting, and worker pay ratios, to poverty abatement, life expectancy and student prowess in mathematics. Clearly, neither our Constitution nor our government style gives us an inalienable "right" to self-proclaimed superiority.

We repeatedly point out the anomalies between real life in Congress, and the need to correct flagrant abuses. In one case, all members of Congress swear to "uphold the duties of their office" although THERE AREN'T ANY, and then swear to some lobbyist that they won't pay for what they spend. In another, well over half of present Hill staffers have NEVER worked on "normal" budgetary authorization or appropriation legislation. But we also reiterate that Congress is probably no more dysfunctional than the distorted political system that elects it.

We sometimes single out well-known personages for praise or criticism (e.g., Summers, Ashbrook, Reich, Gore), and lean on groups (e.g., governors, mayors, press, etc.) who are not standing up to various travesties. We have even found some recent extreme examples to redefine commonly used expressions, such as polar opposites, vicious circle, pipe dreams;irony, farce, circus, and callousness. 

More fundamentally, we are seriously concerned that so many "true believers" are convinced that our Constitution was written from scratch for a democracy, when, in fact, it is a warmed-over version of earlier demands for a more libertarian republic. The difference is absolutely fundamental: republics sought to relieve the permanent domination (tyranny) of detached governments by benevolent leadership; by  comparison, full democracies must balance their heady freedoms off against the substantial obligations of participatory governance. The former provides hopefully benign disciplines for supervised play in the garden. The latter, our way, requires self-control, intelligence, and acceptance of common rules for group behavior, essentially self-supervised.

We continue to bang on those who view our Constitution as some holy, sacrosanct, prehistoric document carved in stone, rather than a living guideline that should keep up with the times (and ethical norms)--that are changing at rates inconceivable 200 years ago. And we are deeply suspicious of those who hide behind its feigned "untouchability" for their own nefarious purposes. We believe our future as a nation is as threatened by clinging to the past as it is by failing to predict and prepare for our future.

Finally, as the debt limit approaches, and the government stays shutdown, we raise a) the issue that the Congress is already guilty of "reckless endangerment", and b) the option of the President declaring a state of National Emergency to mitigate the impacts of a prolonged government shutdown, and to avoid the potentially calamitous global impact of defaulting on our debt, held worldwide.Surely, if such declarations are attacked as "unconstitutional", then the need to amend that obsolete document becomes simply beyond question.  It seems somewhat ludicrous that the ONLY constitutional reference to our national debt (the last of several unrelated items in the 14th Amendment) deals only with the need to honor (not question) the validity of that debt, except for any debts incurred thru insurrection or loss of slaves! Just how relevant is that?     

 

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