Posted by: doctornuke | January 11, 2011

Musings on politics

“It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.” – David Brin

“The word ‘politics’ is derived from the word ‘poly’ meaning ‘many’, and the word ‘ticks’ meaning ‘blood sucking parasites’.” – Larry Hardiman

The framers of the US Constitution seemed to have intuitively recognized the dangers of concentrated power.  Perhaps from the history of Europe, and the overbearing behavior of the British government in trying to control the behavior of the colonists and the colonies.  Regardless, the limits placed on the federal government have slowly been eroded away over time, resulting, I think, in an strong attraction for the corruptible.
Personally, I feel that the growth in Federal power is the result largely of two issues – the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, and a misinterpretation of the 10th Amendment.
Under Article I, Section 3, Clauses 1 and 2 of the Constitution, Senators were elected by state legislatures. This meant that not only the people (via the House of Representatives) but also the states had a role to play in government.  While Representatives would be answerable to the people of each state that elected them, the Senators would be answerable to the people indirectly through the individual state legislatures.  This was a wise and intentional feature of the Constitution to balance powers between the states and the Federal government.  Any legislation that would increase Federal powers at a cost to the states would be opposed by most states, and would not be passed.  By passing the 17th Amendment (which ironically was passed by at least 3/4 of the states), the Congress was able to completely bypass state governments, making them largely meaningless.  The Federal government has increasingly stepped (trampled) on state’s rights in the almost 100 years since this Amendment was passed.  Many Federal standards have been pushed on states that the states would not otherwise have accepted.  And this leads right into the second issue in Federal power growth – the disregard for the 10th Amendment.
The 10th Amendment to the US Constitution reads very simply and plainly: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  Straight, direct, and to the point (I really miss such legislation, but sadly it is the supposed vagueness of this Amendment that has resulted in its widespread disregard).  Personally, I don’t see the vagueness in the wording – it is very clear to me.  If the Constitution doesn’t say that the Federal government can do it, it can’t do it.  This is why the 16th Amendment, authorizing an income tax, was required.  The Constitution does not provide for the Federal government to impose an income tax, and an Amendment was necessary to grant this power.  Whatever one may think about the income tax, it at least was passed consistent with the spirit of the 10th Amendment.  But such adherence to the letter of the law has been largely disregarded in recent years.  Federal speed limits, legal drinking and (I believe) gambling ages, drug laws, education requirements, all sorts of spending mandates, and numerous other types of legislation have been passed with complete disregard for the 10th Amendment.  Speed limits have not been directly set by Federal law, but have been forced upon the states by threats to withhold Federal funding elsewhere – this is an example of a clear but indirect violation of state’s sovereignty.  I believe drinking and gambling limits have been forced on the states in the same manner.  But nowhere in the Constitution is the Federal government given the right to impose such mandates on the state governments.
So what do we do about this?  Clearly, one answer is to repeal the 17th Amendment, so that states can begin to reassert their own rights.  However, with 100 Senators who would potentially lose their jobs, this is not going to be coming out of Congress.  A Constitutional convention of the states has been provided for in the Constitution, but has never actually been employed.  However, since states stand to benefit and Congress stands to lose its power, this is probably the only way this would ever happen.  I’m at a loss at how to restore the weight of the 10th Amendment, although I do believe that repeal of the 17th would eventually result in reasserted state’s rights.  But to me, the key to the problem goes to the quote I started this blog with.  The problems we have result from the people we are putting into office – the people who seek the power associated with the Federal government.  Perhaps the most immediate way to remedy this would be to instate term limits.  Sure, in theory, our elected officials are term limited at the ballot box, but I feel that that has been circumvented by the politician’s ability to spend our money for their own reelection.  Who’s not going to want to reelect the representative that is so good at bringing the bacon home to his or her district.?  And with a largely uninformed electorate, name recognition is often a key player in the voting process.
The Constitution does not guarantee an individual’s right to vote.  We are a Republic, not a Democracy, and voting, while important, is not a right provided in the Constitution.  Each state is (supposed to be) free to use its own method for election of its congressional representation – states have all defaulted to popular vote.  And in our current society, this “right” is not likely to be taken away.  And I’m fine with that, but I oppose efforts to make voting easier.  Voting has become a sacred right yet it is a solemn responsibility and should not be taken lightly.  The two-party system does make light of the responsibility; in effect, the two parties encourage the mindless to blindly vote for the candidate that the party supports, and too many American voters (plus, IMHO, a significant number of ineligible non-Americans) vote without knowing anything about the individual for whom they are voting.
How would one remedy this?  I have  number of ideas of my own, but I’ll save those for another blog.  This “quick” braindump has taken almost two weeks to complete, and it is time to get it posted for your consideration.  Of course, your thoughts are welcome!
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