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Archive for September 28th, 2011

“You have to have more ability from Congress, I think, to work together and to get over the partisan bickering and focus on fixing things. I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover. I really hope that someone can agree with me on that. The one good thing about Raleigh is that for so many years we worked across party lines. It’s a little bit more contentious now but it’s not impossible to try to do what’s right in this state. You want people who don’t worry about the next election.”

The current spin on this rather startling statement is that she was telling a joke.

I’m not laughing. You shouldn’t be, either.

In many parts of the world, suspending elections is usually a prelude to a coup d’etat.

This also says nothing of the abysmal logic underlying this expression of genius. After all, if you believe that Congress cannot show the courage to engage in realistic solutions now, why on earth would you suggest that the answer is to let them stay and enjoy the power and the perks they already have, without the fear of we, the voters to set them in line.

Coming as it did at the same time as former OMB Director Peter Orszag’s suggestion that we need less democracy, it sounds even less like a joke, and more like a trial balloon.

This doesn’t seem to bother many people. Last night, on a friend’s Facebook page, one commenter reacted to a suggestion that impeachment might be in order for this elected official by suggesting that not only would was that a gross overreaction, but that if that course of action was taken, it would be a violation of the governor from MENSA’s First Amendment rights. My friend took the opportunity to remind the “I’m not a lawyer, but I watch law shows on TV” commenter, who I will call “People’s Court” that courts have a long tradition (we call it precedent) of specifically NOT taking impeachment cases as they have always been regarded as nonjusticable issues. People’s Court wasn’t yet done, as he then criticized other commentors’ speech critiques as wrong, because, in his eyes, the First Amendment protections of political speech could only be abrogated because of “imminent lawless action” now. I wasn’t too surprised when my friend revoked People’s Court’s scholarship at that point, because he has a low tolerance for the unforgivably stupid.

“But why does it matter?” I can hear you asking.

Let me tell you.

The ability to choose the people who will represent us in the House of Representatives by means of election was important enough to the Framers to include in the Constitution.

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution reads:

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

The reason why this interval was chosen was explained by Hamilton in the Federalist 52:

The term for which the representatives are to be elected falls under a second view which may be taken of this branch. In order to decide on the propriety of this article, two questions must be considered: first, whether biennial elections will, in this case, be safe; secondly, whether they be necessary or useful.

First. As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people. Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured. But what particular degree of frequency may be absolutely necessary for the purpose, does not appear to be susceptible of any precise calculation, and must depend on a variety of circumstances with which it may be connected. Let us consult experience, the guide that ought always to be followed whenever it can be found.

The scheme of representation, as a substitute for a meeting of the citizens in person, being at most but very imperfectly known to ancient polity, it is in more modern times only that we are to expect instructive examples. And even here, in order to avoid a research too vague and diffusive, it will be proper to confine ourselves to the few examples which are best known, and which bear the greatest analogy to our particular case. The first to which this character ought to be applied, is the House of Commons in Great Britain. The history of this branch of the English Constitution, anterior to the date of Magna Charta, is too obscure to yield instruction. The very existence of it has been made a question among political antiquaries. The earliest records of subsequent date prove that parliaments were to SIT only every year; not that they were to be ELECTED every year. And even these annual sessions were left so much at the discretion of the monarch, that, under various pretexts, very long and dangerous intermissions were often contrived by royal ambition. To remedy this grievance, it was provided by a statute in the reign of Charles II. , that the intermissions should not be protracted beyond a period of three years. On the accession of William III. , when a revolution took place in the government, the subject was still more seriously resumed, and it was declared to be among the fundamental rights of the people that parliaments ought to be held FREQUENTLY. By another statute, which passed a few years later in the same reign, the term “frequently,” which had alluded to the triennial period settled in the time of Charles II. , is reduced to a precise meaning, it being expressly enacted that a new parliament shall be called within three years after the termination of the former. The last change, from three to seven years, is well known to have been introduced pretty early in the present century, under on alarm for the Hanoverian succession. From these facts it appears that the greatest frequency of elections which has been deemed necessary in that kingdom, for binding the representatives to their constituents, does not exceed a triennial return of them. And if we may argue from the degree of liberty retained even under septennial elections, and all the other vicious ingredients in the parliamentary constitution, we cannot doubt that a reduction of the period from seven to three years, with the other necessary reforms, would so far extend the influence of the people over their representatives as to satisfy us that biennial elections, under the federal system, cannot possibly be dangerous to the requisite dependence of the House of Representatives on their constituents.

Elections in Ireland, till of late, were regulated entirely by the discretion of the crown, and were seldom repeated, except on the accession of a new prince, or some other contingent event. The parliament which commenced with George II. was continued throughout his whole reign, a period of about thirty-five years. The only dependence of the representatives on the people consisted in the right of the latter to supply occasional vacancies by the election of new members, and in the chance of some event which might produce a general new election. The ability also of the Irish parliament to maintain the rights of their constituents, so far as the disposition might exist, was extremely shackled by the control of the crown over the subjects of their deliberation. Of late these shackles, if I mistake not, have been broken; and octennial parliaments have besides been established. What effect may be produced by this partial reform, must be left to further experience. The example of Ireland, from this view of it, can throw but little light on the subject. As far as we can draw any conclusion from it, it must be that if the people of that country have been able under all these disadvantages to retain any liberty whatever, the advantage of biennial elections would secure to them every degree of liberty, which might depend on a due connection between their representatives and themselves.

Let us bring our inquiries nearer home. The example of these States, when British colonies, claims particular attention, at the same time that it is so well known as to require little to be said on it. The principle of representation, in one branch of the legislature at least, was established in all of them. But the periods of election were different. They varied from one to seven years. Have we any reason to infer, from the spirit and conduct of the representatives of the people, prior to the Revolution, that biennial elections would have been dangerous to the public liberties? The spirit which everywhere displayed itself at the commencement of the struggle, and which vanquished the obstacles to independence, is the best of proofs that a sufficient portion of liberty had been everywhere enjoyed to inspire both a sense of its worth and a zeal for its proper enlargement This remark holds good, as well with regard to the then colonies whose elections were least frequent, as to those whose elections were most frequent Virginia was the colony which stood first in resisting the parliamentary usurpations of Great Britain; it was the first also in espousing, by public act, the resolution of independence. In Virginia, nevertheless, if I have not been misinformed, elections under the former government were septennial. This particular example is brought into view, not as a proof of any peculiar merit, for the priority in those instances was probably accidental; and still less of any advantage in SEPTENNIAL elections, for when compared with a greater frequency they are inadmissible; but merely as a proof, and I conceive it to be a very substantial proof, that the liberties of the people can be in no danger from BIENNIAL elections.

The conclusion resulting from these examples will be not a little strengthened by recollecting three circumstances. The first is, that the federal legislature will possess a part only of that supreme legislative authority which is vested completely in the British Parliament; and which, with a few exceptions, was exercised by the colonial assemblies and the Irish legislature. It is a received and well-founded maxim, that where no other circumstances affect the case, the greater the power is, the shorter ought to be its duration; and, conversely, the smaller the power, the more safely may its duration be protracted. In the second place, it has, on another occasion, been shown that the federal legislature will not only be restrained by its dependence on its people, as other legislative bodies are, but that it will be, moreover, watched and controlled by the several collateral legislatures, which other legislative bodies are not. And in the third place, no comparison can be made between the means that will be possessed by the more permanent branches of the federal government for seducing, if they should be disposed to seduce, the House of Representatives from their duty to the people, and the means of influence over the popular branch possessed by the other branches of the government above cited. With less power, therefore, to abuse, the federal representatives can be less tempted on one side, and will be doubly watched on the other.

Not to be outdone, Madison also makes this observation in the Federalist 37:

The genius of republican liberty seems to demand on one side, not only that all power should be derived from the people, but that those intrusted with it should be kept in dependence on the people, by a short duration of their appointments; and that even during this short period the trust should be placed not in a few, but a number of hands.

So the existence and frequency of elections was a primary fixture in the Constitution as applies to the House of Representatives because history had taught the Framers of the danger of not having fixed election intervals, and because they are a mechanism of accountability, and that without the potential of losing office, our elected officials have no incentive to dance with them what brung ’em.

“So the Framers thought that regular elections were important.  So what?” you say.

Well, for starters, when Governor Purdue was inaugurated in 2009, she placed her hand on a Bible, and took a three part Oath of Office, the first part in which she stated to support the Constitution and the laws of the United States.  The second part of the oath states:

  “I do solemnly and sincerely swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the State of North Carolina, and to the constitutional powers and authorities which are or may be established for the government thereof; and that I will endeavor to support, maintain and defend the Constitution of said State, not inconsistent with Constitution of the United States, to the best of my knowledge and ability; so help me God.”

Why is this important?  Because Article 1, Section 5 of North Carolina’s Constitution states:

Sec. 5. Allegiance to the United States.

Every citizen of this State owes paramount allegiance to the Constitution and government of the United States, and no law or ordinance of the State in contravention or subversion thereof can have any binding force.

So, even if you believe that the Governor was joking, she was joking about doing something that contravenes the basic law of the Federal government, and that violated her oath of office and her duty under the North Carolina Constitution.  If it was a joke, it was not funny, as it proposed not amending the Constitution, which is a legitimate exercise if only because that process is set forth in the Constitution itself, and because it respects the role of the people in the process because their participation is still necessary to the process, but simply “suspending” elections…an act that is by its nature extra-Constitutional, and therefore invalid.

People who take their duties seriously don’t jest about such things.  And after hearing it from her own mouth, I don’t believe it was a joke.  And I’m not the only one, which I believe is one of the reasons why the joke angle is being pushed so hard…because if she was serious, then it was a willful neglect of her duty, which according to North Carolina law, is grounds for impeachment.  It’s a tough place for the governor to find herself.  If she was serious, she violated her oath of office and her state Constitution, and if it was a joke, it not only made her look stupid for not understanding how awful her reasoning was, but because it was delivered in a manner that many took seriously…kind of like dousing yourself with gasoline, then trying to juggle lit matches.  Dumb if you meant it, dumb if you didn’t mean it.  I guess her (D) isn’t just for party affiliation; it’s a warning label. 

***********************************Update:
It must be something in the left’s Kool-Aid this week.  This piece in The Economist takes Harold Meyerson to task for his article in the American Prospect that alleges that the problem is isn’t too much democracy…it is that there is isn’t enough democracy in the American system of government.

While the author’s takedown of Meyerson’s prezel logic was mildly entertaining, he too, dropped a clanger into his critique:

I would prefer a parliamentary system myself, but this is all quite odd.

Moron (not the good kind).  Idiot.  Boob.  Ninny.  One of the reasons our government is set up the way that it was is to foster stability.  Parliamentary systems can’t really make the same claim.  Just ask Italy. 

I swear, there should be an agreement among gentlemen to never discuss or participate in discussions of making radical changes to government with people who have not read the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers and are therefore unable to address the reasoning of the Framers and their opponents, and explain why they were wrong in spinning their glittering pontifications of why their brilliant ideas for CHANGE!!! should be seriously considered as anything other than a crass play for more power.  Meyerson, apparently has read at least ONE of the Federalist Papers, but still came up with 9 when he added 2 plus 2.  I suppose I should give him a nod for his effort, but window dressing isn’t really enough, and that’s all I can call it, since the core of his lament is that the executive is only in charge of his branch of government, thus thwarting majority rule, and the ability of the federal government to DO SOMETHING RIGHT NOW.  This view is understandable since the Progressives managed to hamstring the states by eliminating their voice (and veto) in the Federal assembly with the passage of the 18th Amendment, but the fact remains:  The states were always intended to be co-sovereigns with the Federal Government, not subservient to it, and in the wake of the 18th Amendment, statist philosophy, both tacitly and overtly has impacted the national political conversation.  It is a trend that is injurious to liberty because it marginalizes the individual, and it needs to be brought to heel if we do not wish to plunge ourselves into a modern serfdom.

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