In God We Trust… In Government? Not So Much
By Jim Yardley
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 80% of Americans don’t trust their own government. Could it really be that Americans actually do trust their government…to do the wrong thing with remarkable consistency? Trust is based on an assumption that the person or thing in whom one places trust will act predictably and responsibly. It appears from the poll results that came out in early April that the government does neither, at least in the minds of four out of five citizens.
When we speak of “The Government,” we are really describing the people we employ to operate the government — to pass the laws, raise the taxes needed, and so on. People, not some vague creation called government, are the real source of this distrust.
By using a vague, collective term such as “government,” we give the individual legislators, administrators, regulators, and millions of drones in the government who both actually cause our problems and are the cause of our distrust a free pass.
Many people believe that we could solve part of this dilemma through the passage of a term limits amendment. But why do we need one? Every two years we get a chance to replace every member of the House and a third of the Senate. Within a six-year span, every House member, every senator, the president, the entire cabinet, and thousands of senior appointed officials could be gone.
Again, why do we need a term limits amendment? We, the citizens, can create our own tidal wave of change in our government. Passing a term limits amendment is akin to the amendment that made the consumption of alcohol illegal. It’s saying, “Please pass a law to stop me from doing something stupid.” So how did that whole Prohibition thing work out for us? Not too well.
Why rely on the amendment process to solve what might be called term limits by the electorate? We can implement de facto term limits at the box. If you just can’t stand the idea of voting for the Democrat opponent of the Republican incumbent (or the Republican opponent of a sitting Democrat, just to be bipartisan), but you know that he or she needs to go thanks to too much time in Washington, recent events have shown that an angry citizenry can use the primary system to nominate new candidates regardless of what the party Brahmins desire. Just ask Senator Bennet (R-UT) or Congressman Mollohan (D-WV1). There is no need for a super-duper amendment. We can just do it. Again. And again. Until they are all replaced. Although he didn’t mean to apply it in this context, President Obama, in his classically narcissistic phrase, said it best: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
And this nominating process is critical. Every effort must be made to nominate, and elect, candidates who understand that their job in Congress is to act within the limits established in the Constitution. The Founders set out very clear limits for the federal government’s authority and sphere of actions. If the president and Congress feel that there is an area where they should be allowed to act which is not allowed by the current language of the Constitution, they always have the amendment process to expand their authority. Any nominee for either the House or Senate should make an affirmative statement acknowledging the limits on what Congress can do without such an amendment before asking for our vote.
As for the bureaucrats in the federal government, it becomes clear that positions of power, with a total lack of any responsibility or accountability, are very attractive to certain personalities. We can very simply add both to their jobs. Congressional staffers who actually write the legislative drafts should be required to append their names, official positions, and a résumé of their expertise to the draft for public review. Then the media, assuming it decides sometime in the near future to go back to work as journalists, can report to the rest of us whether the person drafting the legislation has even a passing understanding of the subject at hand. If not, does the term “political reliability” (as it was used in the old Soviet Union) apply to his or her selection to draft laws that will impact every citizen, except those favored by his or her party’s hierarchy?
The same method should be used to identify the staff members who actually draft those reports that are carried into congressional hearing rooms by the various cabinet secretaries to give weight to their preening before the cameras.
In addition, Congress must reassert its authority, and responsibilities, under Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution. Only Congress is empowered to create the laws under which we live. Allowing them to sub-contract the job to regulators who are never named, seen, or held responsible should itself be classed as unconstitutional and a dereliction of duty. It goes without saying that there are innumerable precedents for Congress to delegate drafting regulations to the various executive branch departments, but just because the Supreme Court determines that such delegation by Congress to the Executive is allowed under the Constitution, there is one court which can reverse that finding. The court of public opinion, and the coercive power to abruptly end the political career of offending members of Congress, will have much more impact than a Supreme Court ruling that essentially says, “Well, we can’t really figure out a reason why you shouldn’t do this.”
Demanding that Congress affirm that they have actually read and understand the language of regulations that have been drafted in various departments of the Executive branch would certainly encourage them to send a message to those branches: “If you can generate 10,000 pages of regulations that I have to read and swear that I understand, you obviously have too many people with too much time on their hands. Your next budget will be cut!”
The Constitution begins “We, the People…”, not “We, the elected officials…” It is our government to control, it is our government to direct, and it is our fault if we continue to allow temporary employees to manage the government to suit themselves. The first step in fixing what we, the people have allowed to drift in an unacceptable direction is to prove in November to these temporary employees that they truly are temporary — and that their services are no longer required.