Frederick Hall: We betray the Founding Fathers
Men and women are no longer willing to accept arbitrary rule of their lives founded by our country.
The dream that justified the hardships and many risks of journeying to a new land was to gain the right of self-determination. That ideal is called democracy, which does not imply rule by the Democratic Party; it simply means self-rule. The founders firmly believed that “We the People” had the right to decide who governed them.
They also understood that not all kings are tyrants (of course not!) nor are all tyrants kings. Human nature — as they knew — makes excessive power in the hands of any individual an invitation to arbitrary rule to satisfy selfish desires. Throwing off the yoke of kings was, therefore, only the beginning, the necessary first step to make way for lasting self-rule.
To head off excessive concentration of power, they distributed the powers of government among three branches:
The legislative branch, Congress, writes laws.
The judicial branch, the Supreme Court, determines whether those laws satisfy the Constitution’s constraints.
The executive branch, the president and his administration, enforces those laws.
As a further safeguard, they divided congressional powers to excuse the very tilted playing field created by their decision, its two houses.
Though not entirely accurate, it is convenient to think of the Senate as having oversight on policy issues. Whether to enter into treaties or declare war, are examples. The Senate also must confirm appointments of federal judges and important positions within the administration. The senators’ six-year term of office lends continuity and encourages them to take the long-range view.
The House of Representatives has responsibility to provide the funding necessary for enforcing the laws and executing the tasks of government. Representatives have two-year terms of office, which gives the people much more frequent opportunity to vote out of office any whose work they do not like. The founders’ intention is clear: Give the people a strong voice in making the laws that govern them.
Slow drifts in our society have weakened that voice, but the crucial factor that accelerated everything takes just takes just two words to state: Citizens United. The Supreme Court based that most unfortunate decision on the bizarre premise that corporations are people. Then, to excuse the very tilted playing created by field their decision, they said that opposing points of view can be worked out in “the marketplace of ideas.”
Did they actually believe that? However true that was at the writing of the Constitution, the “marketplace of ideas” is no longer living rooms, pubs and street corners. Today, television blares ideas at us. Because TV is an extremely expensive medium, the loudest voice tends to be the one with the most money. Citizens United allowed enormous amounts of money to flood the political process. SuperPACS to advance the agendas of special interest groups of all stripes popped up like weeds.
To have paper entities — not people — battle ideas out is bad. Doing that without revealing who provided the money, as Citizens United allows, is terrible. Knowing the true source can tell us the group’s real intentions (and perhaps show that the stated purpose is intentionally misleading).
Today, television is the pre-eminent shaper of political opinion. The air time given an idea is more an indicator of the cash behind it than of the idea’s strength. Should that be the basis for informing our decisions?
The simple need for lots of TV money distorts democracy: My inbox underscores that point every day. Requests from all parts of the country say that my money is urgently needed so that Candidate A won’t be outraised by Candidate B (often, all I know about either is their party affiliation).
Candidate A almost always lives in a district where I cannot vote, yet my money is supposed to counter the money — from … who knows where … that backs Candidate B. Whatever happened to self rule? Why should anyone’s future be so heavily influenced by corporations or by people living far away?
You ask why I care so much. Simple: Think of the most notorious killers in our own time: Hitler in Germany, Stalin in Russia, Mao in China and Pol Pot in Cambodia. They sent millions of people to death although none of them was an invader. Each was instead a home-grown member of society who accumulated too much power.
Self-determination has protected us from that here, but Citizens United swamps “We the People” with the voices of the few. Letting it stand rejects our Founding Fathers’ gift. We must repair our broken campaign finance laws.
Frederick Hall lives in Grass Valley.
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