Sunday, February 13, 2005

Power Struggles

I have been thinking recently on our wonderful Constitution, and wondering what the founders would do if they lived today. I suspect that they would take up arms and lead a rebellion. Just kidding, but now that I have your attention and no one is sleeping through this history post, I shall continue.

American history has always fascinated me, but recent events have led me to ponder our founders wisdom all over again. In addition to the formation of a fledgling government in Iraq, a recent West Wing episode promoted me to think over the Constitution. In the episode, the White House was hosting the leaders of Belaruse who were trying to form a constitution. A White House staffer argued for a Parliamentary system as opposed to one that had a chief executive. According to him, only four executive systems made it past 20 years, the rest descended into tyranny. An interesting proposition, but one that I believe misses the point of the American Constitution. It misses the mark on at least two points.

First, the true beauty of the Constitution is that the National Government is ‘supposed’ to be weak. It has very little power according to the Constitution. It taxes, it provides for the defense, interstate commerce, and delivers the mail. But other than that, it does not do too much. The 10th amendment specifically states that if the power is not in the Constitution, then the National government does not have it, and can’t take it. It is not the chief executive that the founders feared as being oppressive, it was the whole national system they feared being oppressive. A Parliament can trample rights just as easy as a President, something the founders had just lived through.

Second, our government is designed to have conflict. It is not about running things smoothly. It is about power struggles. That is how they designed it. If there is no power struggle, then someone is hoarding all the power, and that is trouble. In a Parliamentary system, that power is hoarded by the Legislative branch. Our forefathers wanted a government filled with strife. They made it so that if the President got too far out of line, he could be removed. They made it so that if laws were passed that the President did not like, he could veto. Our history is story about this power struggle. Right off the bat the Judicial branch tried a power grab that led to Congress and the States passing the 11th Amendment. Later President Jackson thought they overstepped their bounds again and he just ignored Chief Justice Marshall’s decision. Jackson marched the Indians to Oklahoma anyway (a move that probably saved more lives than it lost). The States protested the Alien and Sedition Acts of John Adams. The National Bank was outlawed by some states and finally squashed by Jackson. Presidents have taken power and they have lost power. Congress has taken power and they have lost power. The latest Judicial Activism is an attempt to take more power and strip Congress, which grew powerful after forcing out Nixon, who inherited a powerful executive from JFK and LBJ. Our American history is a rich story of people fighting over power, and I would not have it any other way.


Matt Powell said...

Great post! It's good to remind ourselves from time to time how unique America was and continues to be, despite all those who would try to deny it, even within our own country.