The Party’s Over
This is a column about what I believe is our country’s biggest, most pressing political problem. We’re on the path to losing the most basic protection we have for our American way of life and our democratic processes. It’s the protection the Founding Fathers took the most care in building, and it’s the one that today’s leaders are destroying.
What is it? It’s our system of checks and balances.
Back in the day, while inventing what would turn out to be the world’s most successful experiment in government, our Founding Fathers were worried that an individual or group could amass so much power that they would become king-like. They had had enough of King George, so they created three branches of government—executive, legislative, and judicial—to keep an eye on each other, plus a free press so that “we the people” could keep an eye on them. And y’know what? It worked like a charm.
So what’s my gripe? We still have three branches of government and a free press to watch over them, don’t we?
Not really. In name, maybe, but not in reality. The checks-and-balances created by our Founding Fathers have been overwhelmed by the party system.
It wouldn’t be a problem except that political parties are driven more by the need for power than service to the people. George Washington warned us about this, and now … here it is. No longer does Congress protect us against the misbehavior of our Judiciary and our Executive branches. No longer does our Executive branch protect us against the biases of our Judiciary and the dysfunctions of our Congress. And no longer does the Judiciary branch protect us against the transgressions of the other two. Now, it’s all a fight to load each of the branches of government with party members, whose loyalties lie with their parties rather than with statesmanship or the Constitution. The only remnant of checks and balances we have now are the two dominant parties themselves, but they’re more interested in power politics, staying in office, and imposing their own brand of control over the country, rather than the well-being of the people.
How’s that working?
Nowadays, we see Congress—both houses—dominated by party loyalties, big money, and obedience to party leaders, rather than statesmanship and the well being of the nation. We see Senators and Representatives unwilling to stand up and be counted, for fear of losing party support, and therefore losing the next election. The result? Gridlock. Divisiveness. The loss of civility, compromise, and common sense.
We see a presidency which seeks to arrogate power through unilateral action, rather than debate and cooperation. By the way, all presidents in the modern era have behaved this way. You-know-who isn’t the only one, he’s just the current one.
Most shamefully (in my view) our top watchdog, the Supreme Court, is being stripped of its most precious principle — objectivity — which has been replaced by the appointment of justices with strong political biases. Every Supreme Court appointment is a political battle, a battle to appoint a justice with the “right” political bias, and “right” depends upon which party is in power when a seat on the court becomes available.
To my way of thinking, a Supreme Court justice (or any other member of the judiciary) who is a “conservative judge” or a “liberal judge” is unqualified for the job, and should be removed. To me, the only acceptable Supreme Court justices are those who are non-political. If you apply a conservative or a liberal interpretation to the Constitution, you’re perverting it to political ends, and that, in my mind, is not only unacceptable, but borderline criminal. The statue of Lady Justice is blindfolded for a reason; it’s her job to be blind to bias of all kinds, and attentive to truth only.
What about our free press? Sorry, no help there. Journalism yielded to entertainment long ago. Circulation and audience numbers mean profits, and entertainment, not genuine news, produces the numbers. The fourth estate has switched from watchdog to lapdog and it’s not likely to switch back. (This one is actually our fault; the vast majority of us watch the fun stuff, not the serious stuff.)
What about that last resort of democracy, “we the people”? Aren’t we in charge? Can’t we right this capsizing ship with our votes? Yes, we could, but no, we won’t. The vast majority of our voters are ill-informed, thoughtless, and dazzled by star power. They get sucked in by whichever candidate “feels” good to them, not by any objective evaluation of values, character, or competence.
The only remaining check-and-balance isn’t a check or a balance at all. It’s the fight for supremacy between the parties, and it’s motivated not by statesmanship, but by the desperate need to be in power. The interests of the voters—that’s you and me — have gotten lost in the shuffle. We voters become important only when it serves the interests of the party…at election time. Oh yes, politicians say the right things—their most-used phrase is “the American people” — but watch their actions, and you’ll see what’s true. Politicians say their motto is “e pluribus unum” but their actions demonstrate, “party before people.”
Political parties came into being as a way to promote an idiology, a belief system, and to support candidates who promised to advance that idiology. Now, the only reason a political party exists is to form a power base for politicians — not to govern, not to look out for the well being of the people, and certainly not to render justice. Political parties’ one and only purpose is to put and keep politicians in office. If we occasionally get statesmanship from our President, our Congress, or our Supreme Court, it’s a lucky by-product, not the result of good governance.
What can we do about it? Well…we can vote, but it won’t matter unless we vote intelligently. “Getting out the vote” is touted as the cure for all political ills. But voting itself is the underlying problem, and that’s because the vast majority of voters are ill-informed and easily swayed by empty promises and charisma. They cast votes with little or no understanding of the candidates, or of the true impact of legislation. So the only cure for what ails us is informed voters. Is that likely to become reality?
I can only hope.
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