Proposed Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY FOR THE MODERN ERA



CURRENT SYSTEM STRESSED


"Throw the bastards out!"
U.S. Voters, every election year

After tossing the previous "bastards" out, and installing the "lesser of the evils" to office, the voters generally find the new "bastards" just as tossable. The newly-elected politicians experience the same difficulties when trying to make the representation, empowerment, and accountability systems created in the 1780s deliver what the public want over two centuries later.

The U.S. economic and military position in the world, though still dominant, may not be sustainable over the long-run, given raging domestic ills--most particularly substandard public education. As the world continues to look to the U.S. for leadership, with little real alternative, we seem to respond tardily and without reference to a long-term vision.

Representation

Just as staggered elections and varied election terms assure that no general popular mood translate into political power in the government, they also eliminate the possibility of a strong popular mandate empowering government to act boldly in addressing social needs. The relatively brief Presidential and Representative terms decreed by the U.S. Constitution necessitate short- term views, hamper the implementation of long-term policies, and divert precious attention and energy away from the managing of domestic and international affairs to almost continuous reelection efforts. The more frequent the elections the more the media exercise their considerable powers over electoral outcome, forcing candidates to exert time and energy on manipulating this power rather than representing the will of the people. Presidential term limits eliminate the people's right to re-elect leaders they support. The Electoral College dilutes direct popular election of the President. By making each state "winner take all", it forces campaigning and political focus on the largest states, overlooking the needs of the the "fly over states", and, perhaps, the overall good of the nation.

Empowerment

The separation of executive and legislative powers . . .

complicates policymaking . . . and fosters adversarial relations within government, especially when opposing parties control the White House and Congress, or the individual Houses of Congress. Lacking direct control over the massive Federal bureaucracies, Congress has developed an extensive standing committee system to oversee them. The result is often "pork barrel" politics and "wheeling and dealing", where to pass legislation requires funding unrelated pet projects. This complicated structure dooms passage of any integrated set of complex policies and attempts at slimming the national budget.

complicates implementation of policy . . . as Congress approves executive appointments to head federal departments and agencies--a process that has become so long and disruptive that positions may go unfilled for years awaiting Congressional go-ahead. Congress controls departmental funding, effectively eliminating executive control. Department heads possess no direct mandate from the people, so lack sufficient power to negotiate with Congress or control the large bureaucratic organs they direct.

reduces party power . . . as no single party can formulate and implement a given set of policies without a considerable amount of compromise to the process. Without strong parties, individual elected officials face alone the challenges of making policy, raising election funds, campaigning, and managing the media. Having handled these Herculean tasks successfully, he must then attempt to force his constituents' will upon the larger political machine often without benefit of coordinated party action. The primary system, a relatively recent invention resulting from a weakening of party unity and power, only furthers intra-party strife. During the primary campaign, candidates from the same party must effectively destroy each other in order to win, with predictably deleterious effects on the political effectiveness of their party.

The President must devote considerable effort yoking this political ganglia to his policies, rather than to developing an overall, long-term vision for the nation. He often puts principal focus either on international or domestic affairs, as to manage both capably, given the diversion of his limited resources to internal politicking, considerably strains human capability. With both the executive and the legislative in this mode, the government lurches from crisis to crisis--at home and abroad--letting immediate urgency set priorities and allowing resurgent states of emergency to relieve the responsiblity to get out in front of events so as to avoid being run over by them.

Accountability

The separation of powers diffuses responsibility for governmental action. One branch of government can always claim, rightly in many cases, that the other branch was at fault for a failed policy. Voters cannot hold the directors of executive departments, the true implementers of policy, accountable at the ballot box. Presidential and House of Representative terms of differing lengths, combined with the staggered Senatorial elections, thwart the people's right to remove undesirable public servants as a group.

"We'll blame the President and he'll blame us and we will so obfuscate the issue that the voters will not be able to fix responsibility."
U.S. Congressman, 1970s


Attraction

Statesmen are generally drawn to public service by their ability to make substantial impact. As currently configured, the U.S. political system does not offer much potential in this regard without the application of superhuman effort. The toll government service extracts proves highly unattractive to potential office seekers, especially the constant drive to raise money and maintain media coverage for reelection efforts and the highly intrusive media exposure candidates subject themselves and their families to.

The media scrutiny of presidential appointees to head governmental departments and agencies has become so destructive few qualified people would rationally consider exposing themselves to it.

The primary system by itself has a distinctly negative impact on the attraction of the most able statesmen to public service. Contesting primaries makes the political campaign overly long and extraordinarily expensive. The battle for individual states exposes candidates to a perverse degree of media scrutiny, exposure required for victory. The long, expensive, media-focused campaign rewards campaigning talents over governing abilities.

"No government is better than the men who compose it."
Thomas Jefferson

© 2002 by Michael J. Farrand

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