I never thought I’d say this: I miss Congress. I miss lawmaking. I even miss the slop trough. It was smelly, but it fed a lot of pigs and kept them in the pigpen. Now a bunch of them have gone feral. They’ve grown tusks and are running wild. The other pigs are afraid to move.
The farmer has noticed. He doesn’t want to go near the pigpen either. He’s giving more attention to the other animals. The pigs are so busy terrorizing one another, or being terrorized, they don’t seem to notice that the farmer has gotten tight with the cows and horses. Wait, listen… Is that the pork slaughterhouse truck I hear coming?
Michael Lynch, a philosophy professor, wrote in yesterday’s New York Times that the gridlock in Congress is fraying the democratic fibers of our government. As Congress becomes less effective at managing government, the executive branch will fill the void. People may even applaud this at first, seeking action over political chaos and stasis. This is how the military in Egypt justified its recent overthrow of democratically elected President Morsi.
Friedrich Hayek warned that socialism, which concentrates power in the state, initially for the common good, leads to totalitarianism; and ultimately, Hayek maintained, totalitarian governments defend their rights and privileges at the expense of the people.
There are many roads to autocrats: Communism (Stalin and Mao). Military might (Egypt, Syria, much of Africa). Mass bribery of the upper class (Saudi Arabia, the Old-World monarchies). Now perhaps we will offer up a new path: voluntary abandonment of a centuries-old democracy.
By and large I believe government can be a force for good in a society. I have no illusions, however, about the character of humans. For the most part, we are like water: we flow downhill and seek out any crack or crevice. We are equally capable of high ideals and low behavior. Our Constitution enshrines our lofty ideals. It is the job of Congress to protect those ideals (and us) from our baser instincts.
Even the nuttiest members of today’s Congress were elected by their fellow citizens. Congress is the vehicle through which we, as a large and diverse citizenry, shape our government. If we lose that ability, or sit by insensibly while it is abdicated by the men and women we elected to exercise it for us, we will be reduced to turning out for presidential elections every four years to elect our monarch. Of course those presidential elections will be free and fair. Just ask those who voted for Saddam Hussein in his day. Or, for that matter, Vladimir Putin last year.