Sunday, April 5, 2009

Consent of the Governed


When our founders were drafting the Constitution and determining the form of government they wanted for this new country, they evaluated two primary types, Democracies and Republics. Their paramount concern when choosing a path for this new government was that the leaders and direction would be determined by the “consent of the governed”. Let that phrase sink in for a moment: “consent of the governed”. They were particularly interested in Greek democracy and its failure. This was their primary example for a direct democracy - where virtually all decisions were made by the direct and individual vote by each citizen. They decided that its failure in Greece came about in part because it was impossible for each citizen to be fully informed on each and every topic and that their votes, while certainly cast by the governed, were cast by people knowingly ignorant of the issue and thus cast without a full understanding of what they were voting for.

They chose as their direction a Republic. The governed would be represented by individuals that were directly elected by them or by individuals selected by people the governed had elected. These were local people, people they had the opportunity to know, to talk to. People raised in their region that shared their sense of values. People whose primary reason for standing for election was a sincere desire to serve their friends by serving in their nation’s government, and then leaving office and returning to their community – to be replaced by another civil servant. This rotation of people was to ensure that those elected would remain tied to their home communities rather than being consumed by the power of the federal government. Thus the “consent of the governed” would be refreshed with each new legislator sent off to the federal government.

The other advantage of a republic was that this elected and trustworthy neighbor would be able to devote their efforts to understanding the legislation presented for consideration. Rather than each individual citizen of the 13 colonies being required to understand the content of each and every bill introduced, argued and voted on, the belief was that since the elected representative and each selected (in the early days) senator would naturally have the best interests of their constituents at heart and cast their vote with these interests in mind.

This approach then met the test of “consent of the governed”. The Representative Republic was born.

So how is this working today? Honestly, I have more than a few concerns. While I am certainly as partisan as they come, and proudly so, this particular issue rises above partisanship and directly effects the ability of our country to survive as the Representative Republic it was meant to be. Let me share a few examples that concern me:

This week’s ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court that gay marriage is an “equal treatment under the law” issue and now legal within the state of Iowa. My frustration is not with the verdict, though I support civil unions and not marriage for gays, but with the simple fact the people of Iowa had no say in the matter. This was an argument generated out of whole cloth by a single court verdict and elevated to the Supreme Court of Iowa level. A decision made, not by the people of Iowa, but by a single court. This is not “consent of the governed” but rather a single branch of government imposing its will on the governed.

Next, the current flurry of bailouts throughout our country. I have run my small business in Vinton for nearly 28 years. At times, frankly, I have struggled mightily. Yet, if I would have reached a point where I could have not continued, I would have simply been forced to close my doors and fail. Now, we find that TRILLIONS of dollars of the American taxpayer is being used to prop up companies that are failing. The housing bailout called TARP was created in weeks this past fall, ran over one thousand pages in length and was voted on without a single Legislator or Senator having actually read the bill. It passed. And was promptly changed by then Secretary Paulson without the consent of congress. And it still isn’t working with over 25% of newly refinanced home loans already in default for a second time. How does voting for a bill, without fully reading and understanding it, costing trillions of our hard earned dollars, pass the “consent of the governed” test?

Third, the Federal Reserve printing a TRILLION dollars in money to purchase even more bad loans from banks on the brink of bankruptcy. This was an act, executed with no debate at all. Article 1 of the Constitution clearly states that all bills regarding raising revenue must begin in the House of Representatives. Honestly, I am unclear how the Fed can simply print a trillion dollars. Regardless, again, how does this decrease in the value of the dollar, without any debate by any elected official represent the “consent of the governed"?

Forth, the auto bailout. We, the people, now own GM and Chrysler. And we paid too much – over 30 BILLION to date. If you went on the stock exchange, purchased every piece of stock – EVERY SINGLE, SOLITIARY PIECE OF STOCK AVAILABLE ON THE PLANET – you would only spend $1.28 billion as of Friday, April 3rd. We have spent 23 times more on GM than it is worth. By what possible description is this a good deal?? And, they are asking for more – much more. Was there a single vote for the initial round of GM bailout money? Nope, not a single vote, only then President Bush’s signature. Again, referring to the goal of the founders that our elected representatives would serve the best needs of their constituents, how does spending this amount of American’s hard earned money on a company in failure meet the “consent of the governed”? Would you buy GM stock??

Let’s not forget our energy needs. The people of America have spoken in a loud voice, use our own resources and stop depending on foreign countries with anything but our well-being on their mind. And yet, even with the expiration of the off-shore drilling ban this past October, members of congress are moving quickly to reinstate it. How does this further our national security? Our resources – oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear – should be used to their fullest to ensure our ability to grow and exist as a nation. I am confused when a clear majority of Americans are in favor of using these resources and the Congress’s stubbornly resisting this meets the “consent of the governed” test.

Illegal immigration and the security of our borders. This is certainly a hot-button issue that has its flames fanned by both sides of the issue. However, it is a perfect example of how “consent of the governed” could quite simply resolve the issue. The issue has never revolved around the idea of immigration. All of us are here because, originally, one of our ancestors left the “old country” and immigrated to the US. And, we have long had laws in place that handled this exact issue. There are very clear procedures in place that states the process that needs to be followed when immigrating to the US as well as quotas from each country. If these laws need to change, if the quotas need to be raised – then present these to the American people. Have the legislators discuss this with the people of their district – and the change them. Offering a blanket amnesty of people who have violated the laws of our country does not – by any stretch of the imagination – meet the “consent of the governed”. Additionally, the vast majority of Americans want a secure border with Mexico – period. One of the basic duties of the government of the United States is to secure our borders. The fact that our Congress and numerous administrations fail to do this single task seems to fly in the face of the “consent of the governed”.

There are a large number of other examples where I, or friends, have commented that they simply didn’t know how the government could do “that” – whatever “that” was in the moment. The truth is, they can’t. Our elected officials serve at our pleasure. They are expected to listen to the folks back home, to actually read the bills they vote for, to understand the effects of the legislation they pass and to honor their position as servants of the people each and every day they are in office. They have forgotten. Our federal and state governments are in the midst of a spending orgy the likes of which we, as a country, have never seen. The Obama administration is proposing a budget that spends more money than all of the previous administrations combined. Their own CBO has estimated annual budget deficits of over a TRILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR as far as they can predict into the future. We will be passing on to our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren a debt that they will simply be unable to pay. I do not believe, in my heart, that this is the wish of any American. We need to remind ourselves that these folks are in office by the “consent of the governed” and that they answer to us. If we, as citizens, are expected to live within our budgets, we expect to have our government do so as well.

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