Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Greatest Democracy on Earth. Such As It Is...

The framers of the Constitution may have been brilliant but they were not perfect. They lived in another age- lawyers, merchants, and gentleman farmers- all amateur politicians. For their time, the concepts they introduced were radical, but they were not unrestrained. The preamble may have been orchestrated for “We the People,” but the fine print kept the common fingers off the piano keys.

The founders were all men of property, in an age when only men who owned property could vote. The concept of common suffrage, to say nothing of women voting, was alien to them, something they would have rebelled against vigorously as they fought the British Empire.

Campaigning for election to office was an act of personal dishonor. They could not conceive of their experiment falling into the hands of full-time politicians steered by armies of consultants, forming committees to suck millions in “donations” from those seeking favor from government; permanent officeholders who would wield the levers of power with the partisan ruthlessness of warlords.

A Congress routinely hijacking essential national legislation just to load it with amendments like tumors, hauling pork back to their districts to solidify their death grip on power would have been as alien to them as E.T.

When Lincoln sat in Congress for his single term, beginning in 1847, he considered himself lucky to have a desk with a drawer for his private papers and the privilege to borrow a book from time to time from the Library of Congress.

Only the insane of the eighteenth century could foresee that a bleak two lines added to the Constitution a century after its creation, authorizing the collection of federal income tax, could result in a rampage by our government to mentally rape its own citizens with millions of pages of totally unintelligible tax laws, rules, regulations, and forms.

Today we have special federal tax courts because the law is so convoluted that ordinary federal judges are presumed too ignorant and unschooled to understand the complexities of laws and forms that every citizen down to the village janitor is required to understand, to obey, and to sign under penalty of perjury and threat of imprisonment.

Nor could it be possible in the Age of Reason to foresee a Social Security system that if run by a private business would result in their arrest, prosecution, and conviction for operating a Ponzi scheme. In the real world, taking invested funds in the form of Social Security taxes, paying current claims, and skimming the rest for other purposes is called embezzlement. When government does it, it is simply called politics. In either case the arithmetic is always the same. When the scheme goes belly-up, its operators, if they are smart, will be in Brazil, or, in the case of Congress, retired, which is the political equivalent of being in Brazil.

With all of this, the people in what is touted as the greatest democracy on the planet have no effective recourse. They cannot act directly to fix any obvious open sores or seeping wounds in their own government, because the founders didn’t trust them with the only effective medicine, the power to amend the Constitution. That is reserved for the serpent its creators never saw.

Short of revolution, something Jefferson urged to take place at least every twenty years, the average citizen is left to pound sand by casting a largely empty vote to replace the devil-in-office with the devil-in-waiting and hope that the caustic nature of power to corrupt can somehow be neutralized.

Praying for the devil to grow a halo, we all plod on, one foot in front of the other, trusting that somehow we will not follow the Soviet Union over the national cliff.

-Steve Martini