“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.“ -- Lord Acton 1887
I do not think there is a more powerful or insidious force in the arena of human relationships than power itself. It is a force that should never be minimized. By the same token, should it be regarded as something not to be feared. It can seduce us so we lose all sense of perspective, compromise our sense of morality and set us on a course of covetousness that can eventually destroy us. By any measure, that is an awesome force not to be taken lightly.
That the Founding Fathers were judicious in their regard for the distribution of power is evident in the meticulous attention they gave to the wisdom inherent in the separation of powers between the institutions of government and the electorate, and the relationship between the powers of the federal government and those of the states.
I have great respect for the Founding Fathers and the vision they demonstrated as they struggled to put together the framework for a Republic that would ultimately become the model to be emulated by others struggling with democratic forms of government. I don’t necessarily agree that the end product of their endeavors has resulted in a perfect outcome, but it came pretty close. Like all fine instruments, a bit if fine tuning had to occur in the wake of ratification of their efforts. However, the guarantees and the separation of powers were right on the money. Any damage that may have occurred in the wake of their efforts has been brought about by imperfections within the human condition. We think and act as if we lived in a perfect world which, by our very nature, is impossible. That, in turn, leads to over-simplification and the extremes that follow.
I believe the greatest threats to our democracy are those posited by the centralization and concentration of power. We, as responsible citizens, have abdicated our sacred responsibility to remain ever vigilant over how and why power is acquired, and how it is exercised and retained. We are far too trusting. We much too readily acquiesce to ideologies and personalities, rather than keeping them at arms length, and constantly questioning their motives and actions. Those in office know this and are very adroit in exploiting it to further their own ambitions.
Except for the ideological bias individual justices may bring with them, I believe the Supreme Court has done a pretty good job of holding to the intent of the Founding Fathers, the rather blatant interference in the outcome of the election of 2000 not withstanding. That will be a blight on its record for all time to come. However, even in the chambers of this great body, the imperfections of our human nature serve to remind us of how elusive perfection actually is in the real world, and the need for all of us to never assume that only good will follow in the wake of our trust.
The Executive Branch has certainly had its share of megalomaniacs, some good and others not so good. The egos of a few have served to inspire us and lead us to new heights. Others have led us into the jaws of disaster with their imperious notions of a royal aura enveloping them. The last administration is a rather good example of the latter. There have been those who genuinely worked to improve our lot and others who have set themselves to plundering the country for their own benefit and that of their cronies. All said and done, it has been a rather mixed bag in my opinion. In the final analysis most of them have proven to be just another politician hoping to leave an historical legacy that extends beyond the presidential library. There are those few who should have been freeze-dried for political campaigns and ceremonial occasions, but most are best forgotten. We can learn a great deal from those few who set themselves above any sense of morality and accountability for their actions to those who put them in office. It should reinforce the notion that too much trust comes at one’s own peril. They are the ones that bear watching before, during and after their terms in office.
The House of Representatives is comprised of representatives elected by the voters in congressional districts within each state, apportioned by population. Their terms of office are for a 2-year period which, effectively, ties them rather closely to their respective constituencies. By definition, they are more attuned and responsive to the will of those who elected them to office. We now have what is probably the closest tie of accountability directly to the people of any arrangement now in effect. I regard this as the most analogous to the House of Commons in a Parliamentary System of Government. Two-year terms probably do the best job of limiting the extent to which influence can be peddled and the amount that can be stolen.
However (and this is very significant) senators were elected by the legislatures of each state, and were subject to recall by the legislatures of that state if he/she failed to represent their state’s interests at the federal level. Their very political survival was contingent upon their ability to advocate for their individual states. Their terms of office were for a period of 6 years; the longest term of any serving member in the Legislative Branch.
Then, in 1910 some self-styled expert decided to introduce the 17th Amendment to the Constitution which removed the election of Senators from the State Legislatures and transferred that power to the popular vote of the people within their respective states. The Amendment was ratified by the voters on April 18, 1913 and became law. That action cemented the federal monolith in Washington, D.C. and insulated them from any meaningful control by the individual states. Terms of six years each certainly gives one plenty of time to overcome the frailties of memory and, as a consequence, provides for far greater latitude in lacing their pockets with the largess that goes with the spoils of power, six-year terms of office and seniority. Much can be overlooked and much can be had with the passage of time. I would say they do a pretty damned good job of making hay while the sun shines. Not only do they become independently wealthy at the expense of the taxpayers, but they blatantly thumb their noses at us while they do it.
The result of passage of the 17th Amendment is, in my judgment, one of the two most glaring examples of how the popular mentality of the voters effectively destroyed the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. I cannot help but wonder how powerful and plentiful lobbyists would be today were it not for ratification of the 17th Amendment. I suspect they would be less akin to the House of Lords in a Parliamentary System of Government and more akin to an ambassador at the United Nations.
The power that was given to corporations by allowing them to be treated the same as individual citizens, with all of the rights and privileges thereto pertaining, has resulted in a concentration of power that most threatens our very existence as a democracy. No individual in our society can even hope to amass the financial and political power of the corporation. And, my dear friends, I would submit to you that it is a natural marriage for them to join forces with the political and economic establishment that now threatens the future of our very existence. We have effectively created a federal monolith with unlimited power over our lives, and destroyed the essence of a democratic form of government in favor of a plutocracy. Political and economic power is now effectively concentrated in Washington, D.C. and on Wall Street. We are the poorer for it and getting poorer by the day because of it. They all feed at the same trough of power, influence and money, all the while treating us like mushrooms by keeping us in the dark and feeding us bullshit. And what is worse, they are further enabled by our own self-imposed ignorance.
They pat us on the head and tell us to go outside and play as if we were a bunch of obedient children. How in the hell can power rest with the people, which is what a democracy is supposed to be, if we so willingly give it all up in exchange for the paltry favors with which they seduce us? If we won’t even take the time and effort to stay informed and take an interest in the issues of the day, how can we be anything but easy prey for their greed, avarice and lust for unlimited power?
Next to the 17th Amendment, the action of government that has most crippled our ability to be a healthy democracy is by allowing corporate ownership of the news media; the concentration of the power of information in the hands of a few very big organizations, all of which have motives contrary to those demanded by a viable democracy. What used to be healthy discourse has now morphed into passive participation in the intellectual equivalent of pabulum! But, how can a reporter be an adversary to ones he/she joins for cocktails in the evening? Just watch today’s reporters fawning over the power structure in the halls of power.
Another institution that, in my humble opinion, acts contrary to the best interests of a healthy democracy are those privately funded academic institutions of higher learning. They breed a brand of privilege and elitism that spawns the avaricious appetite for more and more power that is leading us inexorably down the road to ruin as a civilized society, a healthy democracy and a world power to be respected and revered. We are beholden far too much to their alums for the “expertise” we require in order to manage our affairs of state. Let us not forget that an expert is nothing more than one who is better organized and uses audio-visual aids. History clearly demonstrates that great wisdom is not complex and has been abundantly available to our nation in the hands of those often regarded as far too humble to grace the corridors of power.
They are now telling us that there are some institutions that are simply too big to fail. Too big to fail for whose benefit? If that is the case, isn’t it about time we set ourselves to the task of reducing the size of the political, economic and social institutions that have wrought such havoc on this country and, indeed, the world? I cannot think of a better way to start than ---
1. Repeal of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, restoring the election of senators to the power of state legislatures. Let’s do away with this imperious aura that breeds corruption and indifference at the expense of those whom they are supposed to serve.
2. Enact legislation that forbids corporate ownership of the news media. Set up franchised service areas for each newspaper, television and radio station and require that they be locally owned and operated. Limit today’s networks to a role as national and international news bureaus that sell their services to locally owned news outlets.
I have frankly had enough of the bovine scatology that the complexity of our nation and the world is beyond the comprehension of the average person. That is double-speak that is skillfully used to retain the power and influence that will ultimately lead us down the road to what William Grieder has termed, “corporate government.” If that term doesn’t have a sufficiently ominous ring to it, I don’t know what does.
I no longer trust Barack Obama because I haven’t heard any compelling reasons why he chose to reincarnate the Clinton Administration as his own. That doesn’t pass the smell test and is cause for me to wonder what kind of a bargain was struck during the primaries. Was it on the order of “If Hillary wins, this is Barack’s role in her administration with a guarantee that he would be the next “first” in 2016. If Barack wins, this is Hillary’s role in the next administration. Insofar as the occupants of key positions are concerned, they would essentially be identical in both of the administrations.” It is just a question of who plays first violin in Big Money’s Symphony Orchestra of unlimited and unbridled power, to be played at the requiem of a society that totally abdicated its fundamental responsibilities to the best democracy the world has ever seen - that of being intellectually curious, fully informed and totally involved. Complacency is the stuff of fools and saps the lifeblood out of the afflicted. Let that not be our ultimate failure.
March 30, 2009