Thank the Founders for slow government
It’s that time of year again when we as a nation take some time to stop and consider all of the things that we have to be thankful for. And in light of the recent elections, one item that is often overlooked is this: our government is slow.
For all of our justifiable complaints about our elected officials, and even our system of government, the fact that it is slow is a gift from our country’s founding fathers for which we can all be truly thankful.
To say that the founders were suspicious of power, government and human nature would be an understatement. And considering that self-government has to be administered by flawed individuals, they purposed to spread power as far, wide and thin as possible, reducing the potential for mischief that couldn’t be quickly checked by either competing interests or the voters themselves.
Not only did they provide us with the world’s first written constitution, a separation of executive, legislative and judicial power, and a division of legislative power, but they also had the presence of mind to stagger elections for representatives, president and senators every two, four and six years respectively.
It was a conscious choice to design a system that would make rapid and radical change extremely difficult. The end result being that Americans have to feel really, really strongly about something for an extended period of time in order to impact the election of enough officials to make substantial changes.
Even though conservatives rightfully lament most of what Obama and the Democrat majority have done, how much exponentially worse would things be if we had a European style parliamentary system where a simple majority in the equivalent of our House of Representatives is all they would have needed to enact their agenda? (Americans think they're mad now…)
Such countries hold less frequent elections, and the ruling party usually gets to decide when to hold them. This makes it easier for those in power that may have been swept in on a wave of emotion (or personality perhaps?) to play out their hand, instead of being tempered by the fact that they have to face the voters again in less than two years.
Here we elected a new president in a landslide with coattails long enough to win large Democrat majorities in the House and Senate, but even he ran up against the slow nature of our system. And just two years later Americans had the opportunity to change course by voting on every House member and one-third of the members of the Senate.
Again, let us give thanks.
Yes, most of us get sick of the political advertising, with all of the direct mail, email, phone calls, yard signs, and the ads on TV, radio and the Internet. But it’s all part of our slow government insurance policy – the insurance that no one with power can move so fast and make potentially irreversible changes without our being able to look over their shoulder every twenty-four months and render a verdict.
It’s not that these mechanisms keep anything from getting done, but rather that they keep most major changes from happening that don’t enjoy an extremely large and sustained majority of support, (exception: ObamaCare, which became law by the skin of its teeth, and inspired a public revolt as a result).
If you want government that can turn on a dime, move to Europe or South America, (most of those countries are even broker than we are). But that’s not what our founders designed.
When it comes to the gripes about gridlock, we must ask ourselves just how much of what government actually does do we want it to do anyway? Considering that most of Congress’ time is spent enlarging the size, scope and cost of the federal government, reducing individual liberty and encroaching on the power of the states, just how easy do we want to make it for them to get anything done?
As Mark Twain once quipped, “No man’s life, liberty or property is safe while Congress is in session”.
Remember that self-government is simultaneously our system’s greatest potential strength as well as its greatest potential flaw, in that it depends on us. In the end, we usually get the government we deserve. All the more reason why the founders installed an automatic braking system.
So the next time you’re tempted to gripe about slow government that “can’t get anything done”, just remember the founders, and then give thanks.