Monday, October 7, 2013

Constitutional crisis?

Some of the people currently holding our government hostage until they can figure out what demands of theirs need to be satisfied before they will allow the government to continue functioning, are the same people constantly proclaiming their reverence for the Constitution and the vision of our Founding Fathers. These people should understand that our Constitution never contemplated that these kinds of tactics would be used. Jonathan Chait has an interesting piece out this week, based on the work of political scientist Juan Linz (who just died last week), in which he points out an inherent flaw in the American system of checks and balances. The design feature of our Constitution that allows separate presidential and legislative elections allows for the possibility of divided government. And it is the possibility of divided government that has doomed practically every other democratic system structured like ours. Whenever either party holding power in either the executive or the legislative branch has the power to bring the entire system to a crashing halt unless they get their way, you have a recipe for potential disaster.

Our system was designed that way because it was not designed with political parties in mind at all. Parties are nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. But since political parties formed anyway almost immediately after the formation of government under the Constitution, the system has accommodated them uneasily ever since. The only thing that has saved our system from collapse thus far has been the amorphous nature of American political parties--their ability to accommodate a wide range of views. Conservative Democrats or moderate Republicans will sometimes support the other side's agenda when necessary to allow the government to continue to function.

What is new is that our political parties are now acting more like parliamentary-style parties, demanding rigid ideological adherence to particular programs. There are few moderate Republicans or conservative Democrats left. And parliamentary-style parties threaten the functioning of our American style of government. They create the conditions for exactly the situation we find ourselves in now, with one party in one house of Congress demanding enactment of at least part of its agenda, despite the rejection of that agenda in the presidential election. That faction is deliberately threatening the collapse of our whole political and economic system to get its way. Republicans tried this tactic in the 1990's, and failed miserably. That should have caused them not to try it again. Unfortunately, some of them are demanding that they push it to the limit this time, in the hope that Democrats will save them from their own dangerous actions. But Democrats generally understand that they cannot back down, otherwise they will only be encouraging these tactics in the future, every time the debt ceiling needs to be raised, or Congress needs to pass a budget.

So we have a true Constitutional crisis brewing, unless the hostage-takers come to their senses, and allow the American style of constitutional government to continue to function. They ought to show at least that much respect for the Constitution they claim to venerate.


  1. Here we go, yet again, with the "false equivalency" or "both parties are the same" meme. The mainstream media needs to stop doing's ridiculous BS. It's the media's job to tell the truth, not call both sides "even" when they clearly are not. This Non-Affiliated voter is sick and tired of the false equivalency meme. If you're going to continue to spew this nonsense, don't....just STFU :( ssmdh

    1. Thanks for your comment, Andrew. I agree with you about the "false equivalency" message. I can see where you think I fell into that by noting that both parties have become more rigidly ideological. Which I think they have. But I think I also clearly identified which side are acting as "hostage takers" in this situation, and which side is justified in refusing to bargain with the hostage takers. So there is no equivalency in the legitimacy of the tactics being used.