Andy Driscoll: We, the Ungovernable

 

My friend, former State Senator and Author, John Milton, penned a short piece on the ungovernability of the US, to which I found myself following up with something of rambling dissertation on how this country is ungovernable for many reasons, many of which are embodied in the current political construct and atmosphere, both structural, that is, and by the Senate Club's design:

On Jun 28, 2010, at 10:30 AM, John Milton wrote:

In the Gulf disaster, many of us pretend immunity by blasting British Petroleum or the feds, when in fact the responsibility for perpetuating our addiction to oil is ours.  Once again, when the U.S. Senate refuses to extend unemployment benefits for lack of 60 votes, we can pretend to be offended, but once again we must hold ourselves accountable.  We elected the senators, and, especially those of us who celebrated a Democratic majority in that body in 2006 and 2008, we need to look in the mirror. 

Why?  Because the Democratic majority in the Senate has the power – and the votes – to bypass the requirement of 60 votes.  The Senate majority – by just 51 votes (out of the 58 in the caucus) – can end debate on any issue and pass any bill by a simple majority, as envisioned in the Constitution.*

Some Democratic senators – notably Levin, Harkin, and Leahy – have urged the leadership to eliminate the rule of 60, but both sides of the aisle seem transfixed by the notion that this so-called "protection of the minority" is in the best interest of the American people.  Obviously, it is not.

So those of us who celebrated in 2006 and 2008 must take credit for supporting a Senate Democratic leadership that would rather stumble ahead with an ungovernable system.

Small comfort: at least our country seems to be more governable than Somalia.

-- JWM

*  See "The Constitutional Option," by Martin B. Gold & Dimple Gupta in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 28

Driscoll here again:

Aside from the fact that we are nation of 331 million souls - an ungovernable enough number in its own right – the framers placed "democracy" as the last on a list of desirable options when they created the Constitutional presidency instead of adopting the more responsible and accountable parliamentary model. The so called "balance of power" issue was an overreaction to a monarchical model, but it has also paralyzed for 250 years the flow of innovative public policy initiatives that would define us as the compassionate society many envisioned in that weakest of all documents - the Constitution.

Allowed to run amok, capitalism makes this country ungovernable as well. Without a deeply entrenched social contract for maintaining the most fundamental rights of human beings living in a collective political enclave – far more than the ephemeral "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" or at least interpreting those words in the broadest of contexts - we have deferred to the economic power brought on through government by corporate control. As such, we now tend to believe that, despite the fact that we get the government we deserve by failing to vote or hold our elected officials' feet to the fire - constantly - we deny or delay massive chunks of humanity the fundamental pillars of human survival: food, shelter, clothing, health care, clean air and water, and an education that fulfills the needs of both human and societal to maintain the species and provide for itself. Socialist constructs elsewhere in the world have understood these fundamentals for centuries, even when internal upheaval appears to threaten them. They would never think to abandon the basic responsibility of organized societies that their individuals members are neither denied those basics, nor become a greater burden through that denial that the cost to the organism is greater than if it had provided for all in the first place.

Such is the vaunted United States of America where poverty is at its worst and wealth has become king.

Speaking of size, the US is at least partially ungovernable because of its vast geography, where the lack of proximity to almost all of one's fellow countrymen and women and the half dozen major regions have developed into cultures and political organisms unto themselves, many of whom, with the compliance of federal legislation and the courts, have been allowed to defy the Constitutional tenets that created them, but remain almost unreachable given their entrenched subcultures of racist, violent and corrupt local entities and elected officials.

This is where Lincoln went awry. Maintaining the union at any cost was not necessarily the best thing to do, if, in allowing defections by separate political and economic societies, there sprang up smaller nations or nation-states with a more governable and manageable geographic proximity and common approaches. Despite the risk that slavery as then practiced would continue for a time in the Confederacy, it could not, as an institution, continue for very long afterward, crushed by its own weight and the power of economic forces that would stop doing business under such conditions. One state or group of states or another would recognize that, like European countries have, the survival of a society requires cooperation and not oppression, and that, in the long run, equality of provision of those basic services best serves a nation as a whole and concedes to no one person the power to control the flow of those services by private means.

The United States is far more like the dying Rome than most of us would care to admit, but the wide disparities in the provision of those basics is pulling us down into an uncivilized muck of a country, our ability to govern ourselves completely out of control - and for many millions of us, abandoning the power that true democracy should bestow: simply...voting. 

Electoral defections from such democratic means to quietly revolt against the desecration of our stated principles leaves us no alternative but to accept the national cultural deterioration as inevitable, and thus, we leave to irrational, but powerful, few the power to set the agenda for our cities, our counties and towns, our states, and, eventually, our country from behind the scenes, as they have for some decades now, slowly, but surely.

We may not be able to immediately cut this country up into more desirable and governable nation-states, but we determine for ourselves best who runs our local units of governance by ceasing to believe they are the least important entities of our live, but the most important, no matter what the media may tell you affirmatively (editorializing) or subliminally by omission of coverages of those  offices so critical in determining our daily quality of life. Here is where we can and must hold our leaders accountable and responsible - and stop deferring to others our own responsibility for our own governance.

It's been attributed to several people - Alexis de Toqueville or Karl Marx or that curmudgeonly journalist, H.L. Mencken, but, as implied by John Milton in his far shorter essay below: "We get the government we deserve." Nothing is truer in a democracy.

Andy--