By Steve Brawner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
We may have reached the point where the U.S. government has moved past “does not work” to “cannot work” – not in the current environment, anyway, and we need to decide what to do about that.
A couple of recent examples illustrate.
One is Congress’ inability to respond to President Obama’s decision not to enforce part of immigration law. When that kind of thing happens, Congress must reassert itself. Instead, it did nothing because congressional Democrats placed party loyalty over their branch of government’s responsibility.
The second is that letter sent to Iran’s leaders by 47 Senate Republicans that was initiated by Sen. Tom Cotton and signed by Sen. John Boozman. The letter said that any nuclear arms deal will constitute only an executive agreement unless it is approved by Congress, and that it can be rescinded by the next president, anyway. “President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then – perhaps decades,” wrote the party that used to be for term limits.
The Constitution in Article II says, “The President… shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur …” Obama says this is not a treaty, but whatever you call the paper that eventually is signed, the Senate is supposed to have a major role in determining foreign policy.
The president has not successfully sought the advice and consent of the Senate. He should. But if he did, nothing short of killing Osama bin Laden would get two-thirds agreement these days – another reason to wonder if we’re moving from “does not work” to “cannot work.”
Traditionally, politics has stopped at the water’s edge, but then, traditionally, the parties have seen each other merely as opponents. The real enemies were only outside the border, like the Soviet Union. Surely there are other ways for our system to work than for one branch of government to be communicating one message to a dangerous foreign power while another branch communicates something else. Can you imagine any other walk of life where this kind of squabbling would lead to a good result?
There are other ways of doing democracy. In a British parliamentary system, the prime minister is always a member of Parliament’s ruling party. That party calls all the shots, and it’s the loyal opposition’s job to loyally oppose. If the prime minister loses the support of the party, Britain gets a new prime minister.
Great Britain’s system is not necessarily better, but it is different, and our system does not work/cannot work if our elected officials act like we’re British. Their system is designed with parties in mind, Ours is based on a system of checks and balances where party loyalty is second to branch responsibility, and where the parties govern together when possible.
Some members in Congress are trying to pass a bill that would require congressional approval of any nuclear deal with Iran. The sponsor, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, is a Republican who did not sign the letter. Obama says he will veto the bill if it ever makes it to his desk. If he does, that veto should be overridden by congressional Republicans and Democrats fulfilling their duty – by writing legislation as a body, not letters to the ayatollah as a party. That bipartisan legislation is now less likely because of this letter.
Can that kind of responsible governance happen these days? The writers of the Constitution could not have anticipated how democracy and technology would evolve – that billions of dollars would be spent on campaigns, that 24-hour news stations and the internet would let normal people obsess over politics nonstop, and that our personal data would be used to manipulate us. Meanwhile, other things they did fear – a semi-permanent ruling class, a large federal government – have not been prevented.
In other words, is it that the system does not work, or that it cannot work? Can American democracy function in its current form, or does it need a tweak, or does it need a complete overhaul? Have times changed, or have flaws in the foundation been revealed, or can we work with what we have?
We’d better decide, because we really must fix our immigration system, and we certainly can’t let Iran get a nuclear bomb.