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Partisanship: Blame Grover Norquist, Not The Founders

Everyone recognizes that Washington is not working the way it should. This  has led some on the left, like Harold Meyerson, to question whether the Founders “screwed  up.”

Many on the right, meanwhile, are promoting radical changes to our  constitutional system. They talk about a version  of a Balanced Budget Amendment, which would require a super-majority for most  changes in financial policy. This would enshrine in our Constitution the right’s  do-little government philosophy.

But the Constitution is not the problem. If we want to get  Washington working again, we should listen to the Founders — not blame them for  problems of our own making or change the ground rules of the system of  government they bequeathed to us.

True, the Founders established a deliberative democracy, with a series of  checks and balances designed to prevent the majority from running roughshod over  the rights of political minorities. But these checks and balances have served  our nation well.

The problem is not the democratic system bestowed upon us by George  Washington, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. The problem is the additional  obstacles to action – the filibuster, hyper-partisanship,  and special  interest pledges – that our Founders would have found abhorrent.

Our Founders struck a delicate balance  between the promotion of majority rule – the essential predicate for a  democratic government of “We the People” – and the desire to protect minority  rights and prevent the “tyranny of the majority.” The Constitution is designed  to delay and temper majority rule while allowing a long-standing majority to get  its way.

So, for example, the Constitution staggers the election of senators so that  only one third of the Senate can change hands in any one election. As a result,  it usually takes more than one election for any one party to gain a governing  majority.

Modern politicians have placed layer after layer of lard on this deliberative  system of government, ultimately producing the gridlock now plaguing Washington.  The Senate Republicans now use the filibuster rule as a virtual requirement.  Every piece of legislation must enjoy a super-majority of 60 votes in the Senate — meaning a determined minority can permanently stop the majority from getting  its way.

President George Washington, in his farewell  address to the nation, warned about just such “alterations” to our  constitutional system. He said this would “impair the energy of the system.”

Washington also decried political parties. He passionately warned the nation  against any effort “to put in the place of the delegated will of the nation the  will of a party.”

While political parties were forming and solidifying even as Washington  uttered these words, our modern politicians have enshrined hyper-partisanship  through tricks like the “majority of the majority” rule, whereby the House  speaker will only bring to the House floor legislation that has the support of  the majority of his political party.

It is hard to imagine a more powerful example of the precise  party-over-country danger Washington warned us about.

Washington may have had the likes of Grover Norquist in mind when he warned  that some men “will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp  for themselves the reins of government.”

Even anti-tax Republicans, like Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Rep, Frank  Wolf, have now decried the oversized role Norquist’s no new taxes pledge played  in forcing the debt ceiling showdown and helping to prevent any solution that  would have included new revenues. Coburn and others have warned their colleagues  against putting Norquist’s “no–tax” pledge over their oath to support the  Constitution and to serve “we the people” – not Norquist or any other special  interests.

Washington today has serious problems, but we should not blame the city’s  namesake for them. Rather, politicians of both parties should support a reform  agenda designed to remove from our political system the modern procedural  obstacles that have produced our current gridlock.

Maybe even in these divided political times we can all agree that when  casting blame for what ails Washington, the fault it not with George Washington  and our other Founding Fathers. It’s with the causes of our current gridlock – including figures like Norquist and his no-tax pledge.

By: Doug Kendall, Opinion Contributor, Politico, October 22, 2011

October 24, 2011 - Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Democrats, Elections, Equal Rights, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Lobbyists, Middle Class, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , , ,

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