Publius Speaks

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Flight of Fantasy

I invite you to go with me on a flight of Fantasy.  It seems to me that such a flight should be unnecessary, but it is a necessity if we are to see where we ought to be!

What If:

-- Congress were to become a smaller, more compact group of men & women dedicated to probing and reforming our system of making laws;

-- Congress could be an organization dedicated to resolving the national problems of consequence that have major effects on our lives and that relate only to its constitutionally-invested powers under the Constitution;

-- Congress were to approach law-making as a problem-solving endeavor and hired as many staffers for their problem-solving skills as they now hire for constituent services and political advice and advantage;

-- Congress held hearings to gather information and data on actual problems people face rather than using hearings to advance a political agenda;

-- Congress used polling techniques to gather information and data on actual problems rather than on where they stand politically;

-- Congress surveyed their constituents for real opinions on national problems rather than sending out faux surveys that offer only certain “politically correct” options for them to choose;

--  Congressmen and Senators actually went out among their ordinary constituents and gathered information from them directly; or sat down with groups of ordinary working persons to solicit their views and their concerns;

--Congress revamped its own rules to enable it to move legislation in a planned, efficient and effective process toward a vote up or down on every bill;

-- Congress over-turned all rules that are aimed at restricting, delaying or preventing actual debate and consideration of pieces of legislation: no more filibuster; no more voice votes or roll calls (electronic voting is all that is needed in this modern age); no more amendments unrelated to the bill under consideration; no more “earmarks”; no more “tabling” of  controversial bills; no more delay of consideration; no more scheduling of legislation by political leaders:  all legislation to be scheduled for consideration within a fixed time from when it emerges from Committee or when it is co-sponsored by 25% of the members of either House;

-- Congress had no more political positions in the leadership of the House or Senate, but replaced them with political advisers in the Office of the Speaker and the Office of President Pro Tempore of the Senate;

-- Congress was required to indicate on every piece of legislation, not only its constitutional basis, but the findings of fact on which it is based, and a statement of a specific national problem it is meant to address;

--  Every Congressperson and Senator was mandated to have a “Citizen Advisory Council”, none of whose members could be making over $100,000 per year, none of whose members could be contributors in any way to the legislator’s coffers, none of whom could be currently holding any elective or appointive governmental office; and, what if each legislator was mandated to consult that Council as to the efficacy of every piece of legislation that he or she proposed;

-- Congress was required to give up all its privileges, like health care to which ordinary citizens do not have access, or chaplains that have no business having a permanent office covered under the congressional budget, or chauffeurs and limousines, or rides on corporate jets, or congressional junkets with no other purpose than a paid vacation.

--  Congress was prevented from using inside information to purchase stocks, land, or aid from 3rd parties that enhances their personal wealth or the wealth of any group to which they belong or in which they have any vested interest;

--Congress had to obey every law that it passed, with no exemptions and no exceptions.

We could probably go on and on in this vein, but let us make the main point:  Congress has reached its nadir (at least we hope it has!).  It is concretized; it is institutionalized; it is dysfunctional; it is politicized; it is organized around money and politics rather than the welfare of the people.  Some pundits claim that a number running for Congress now are doing it for the financial gain they can access rather than to serve the electorate.
It doesn’t even seem to understand its own place in the scheme of things which was just recently made so very evident by blaming the President for not being more involved with the Super Committee.  When we had politicians like Byrd & Kennedy & Dirksen & Tip O’Neill & Joe Martin & Mike Mansfield & Styles Bridges & Robert Taft & others too numerous to mention, they understood and coveted the unique role of Congress and would not have expected the President to step into the middle of a committee’s process.  Those Congressional members who themselves berated the President for not being involved, or who led others to think he should be involved, are either ill-informed, or just plain ignorant.

In other words, coming to a landing-point from our fantasy flight, it is time to recognize that Congress is not going to change on its own; it has reached a point where radical reform is necessary to rescue our legislative system and its progenitor, the Congress.  Above all, we can not reasonably expect the Congress to act differently, or to reform itself without pressure, because the tipping point has been reached:  this institution, like most institutions, has set its goals, its processes, its actions in concrete where there is no hope for substantive change.  It is time for us to either reform the Congress or to allow it to become totally irrelevant to the needs of our representative democracy.

A word of caution.  The Occupy Wall Street movement is just the first of substantive indications that there could be a revolutionary, not reformative, movement afoot to say that there must be another way of giving citizens their say, coming to consensus, and deciding on measures that benefit the commonweal.  Ignoring that revolutionary strain of dissent, or trying to shut it down, is no guarantee that it won’t flourish in other forms. 

Reform or revolution?  It is a question built into not only our democratic system, but into all evolving institutions and entities that attempt to deal with the governing or organizing of human beings.  I believe that both are often necessary, but I lean toward reform.  I want to see constitutional amendments that will change our institutions for the better.  I want to see reformers, instead of Tea Party-type destroyers, elected.  I want to see congressional and electoral districts drawn by citizens, not politicians or millionaires.  I want to see private money gotten out of elections and governing.  I want to see ordinary citizens used on all levels of government, in both advisory and official positions, to evaluate, oversee, and recommend changes where necessary in any and all of our governmental entities.

A re-birth of government of the people, by the people and for the people is not a flight of fantasy; it is a mission, a goal, an objective that every generation of citizens of this Republic must take on as their own.