Thursday, July 30, 2009
Supposedly, we Americans believe in the idea of democracy but of course the country is not, strictly speaking, a democracy and the senate is a decidedly anti-democratic institution designed, the cultural critic Richard N. Rosenfeld wrote several years ago, “to prevent the unfettered expression of the people’s will. In fact, the founders of this country were decidedly hostile to democracy and the constitution “was meant to prevent democracy in America” and the senate has always fostered a politics of minority rule “in which our leaders must necessarily pursue their unpopular aims by means of increasingly desperate stratagems of deceit and persuasion.”
Our congressional and executive branches reflect the British system after which they were modeled. The British parliamentary system recognized “the king, Britain’s largest property owner, the hereditary House of Lords (Anglican bishops and titled aristocrats, . . . and a House of Commons (which represented a rising mercantile class of property owners who demands for representation gave rise to” the Glorious Revolution. In our system, the president represents the rule by one (monarchy), the senate represents rule by the few (aristocracy), and the house, the most democratic branch, rule by the many (democracy). The Roman philosopher Polybius, who laid out this division of government, “insisted that each of these forms, unless balanced by the other two, would degenerate into tyranny, oligarchy, or mob rule, respectively.
In Common Sense, Thomas Paine “urged that any American government consist of only one democratically elected legislative chamber, with no aristocratic or kingly branch to veto its decisions.” And in fact, the first government of the United States, the Articles of Confederation adopted just such a system. Unfortunately, the Congress gave each state in the Confederation only one vote in Congress rather than apportion votes by state population. Benjamin Franklin too argued for a one-house legislature which he “likened to ‘putting one horse before a cart and the other behind it, and whipping them both. When the ruling class decided that the Confederation no longer met their interests, they dissolved the Articles of Confederation and replaced them with the Constitution with its rule of one (the president), few (the senate), and many (the House). For Paine and Franklin, wrote Rosenfeld, “two legislative chambers were a prescription for deadlock, and, with the advantage of hindsight, who among us would disagree?”
In the United States today, “U. S. senators from the twenty-six smallest states, representing a mere 18 percent of the nation’s population, hold a majority in the” Senate, and therefore, under the Constitution, regardless of what the President, the House, “or even an overwhelming majority of the” citizens want, “nothing becomes law if those senators object.” “The nine largest states, containing a majority of the American people, are represented by only 18 of the 100 senators in the senate.” Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, New Hampshire, and several other states have only 600,000 or so residents. Each of those states has two senators. California, with 33 million residents, or Washington with 6 million residents each has two senators. Why is it that the 600,000 residents of Alaska have equal votes in the senate as the 33 million residents in California?
Because, as Rosenfeld wrote, the U.S. Constitution was deliberately designed to prevent the unfettered expression of the people’s will.
It’s time to get rid of the senate and institute a one-house, unicameral legislature in the United States.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Yeah, it’s official - - What once Democrats could argue was “Bush’s war,” is the Democrats war now. On June 16th, “in a vote that should go down in recent histories as a day of shame for the Democrats,” according to the writer Jeremy Scahill, 221 Democrats and 5 Republicans backed the Obama administration’s $106 billion supplemental appropriation bill to maintain the occupation of Iraq, escalate the quagmire that is Afghanistan, enlarge the bombing and death into Pakistan and “fund the International Monetary Funds anti-social policies of forcing developing countries to sacrifice programs for the poor in order to bail out big banks.
It was quite a day for Obama and Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership. Only 32 Democrats, most associated with Progressive Democrats of America, had the courage to vote their convictions. Not one of the 32 was from the state of
Anybody remember the 2006 elections? That was the election when Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi asked us to vote for Democrats because the Democrats would end the war. Democrats took over the Congress in that election and then pulled a bait-and-switch by not only not ending the war but escalating it. They voted for war funding supplemental after war funding supplemental. They told us they could not overcome the unpopular Bush. Well, Bush is gone so what is their excuse now? “We’ve got to give Obama’s war a chance?” “This vote,” Scahill writes, “revealed a sobering statistic for the anti-war movement in this country and brought to the surface a broader issue that should give die-hard partisan Democrats who purport to be anti-war reason for serious pause about the actual state of their party.” “Under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the Democratic-controlled Congress has been a house of war. Unfortunately, it is not a house where the war is one of noble Democrats fighting for peace, freedom and democracy. . . . Instead, it is a house void of substantive opposition to the ever-expanding war begun under Bush and escalating under Obama.”
If the first casualty of war is truth, the second should surely be the destruction of “patriotic slogans, calls for sacrifice, honor and heroism and promises of glory” in which war comes wrapped. Except for the 32, the hands of the Democratic members of Congress who have made Bush’s wars their own will now be forever stained by the blood of those whom they sent to die and those who will be killed by our soldiers. “War from a distance,” writer Chris Hedges recalled recently, “seems noble.” But, “war is always about betrayal,” Hedges concludes. “It is about betrayal of the young by the old, of cynics by idealists, and of soldiers and Marines by politicians.”