David Miller has during the past year highlighted many of the opinions expressed in "The Federalist Papers". Clearly one of the things that influenced the design of our American political system was a desire to create checks and balances on power. Checking the power of executives or monarchs was not a new concept. The English from the time of King John when the Magna Carta was signed (under durress), English monarchs had subjected themselves to some sort of constraint from barons, earls, and other landed gentry. Edward I, while trying bring Wales under his thumb while also trying to further English interests in France and Scotland, found he needed money, and the only way to raise the kind of money needed was to convene those who could provide him the money. Edward III, fighting an expensive war against France (the hundred years war), also needed to raise money, and this monarchical need for money led to the rise of power among what was evolving and English legislative branch of government.
Though the United States rebelled against the English monarch George III, it did so out of a lack of representation within the growing legislative structure in Great Britain. When our nation was founded, many of the concepts of English polity were adopted, however, being even more fearful of executive power, the United States ultimately adopted means by which to further reign in an overreaching executive. Courts, another institution much developed by the English provided the other pillar of balance, ensuring that government abides by it's own laws, while judiciating the laws that are adopted.
Mirrors of this three-pronged series of checks and balances exist all throughout American society, both in government, civic organizations and in business. A corporation has stockholders who elect a board of directors which act as a legislative branch. They hire a CEO and management team that acts as the executive. They usually have a body that also acts as a sort of judicial body that ensures that corporate by-laws, generally accepted accounting principles, and sound internal controls are maintained. Audit committees, outside auditors, internal auditors and other mechanisms are created to ensure that management follows the rules that the legislative branch (board of directors) approve.
This basic organization has many benefits. For one thing, when it operates properly, opportunities for corruption are limited. However, when boards become rubber stamps for management (the executive branch), and the judicial processes of oversight from auditors are lax, corruption is more likely. Also, inefficiencies can be created when people forget which hat they are wearing. A board member should not interfering unnecessarily with the day to day operations of a business any more than a city councilman should be directing city employees daily tasks.
One of the hallmarks of the American system of checks and balances is accountability. When all those who serve within the three-pronged sets of checks and balances do so with integrity, independence and a knowledge of what their role entails, decisions are made with the best available information, and decisions are communicated and implemented in a way that allows the organization to progress.
In my life time, I have had to wear various hats in each of the three branches of governance. Each of these roles creates unique challenges. Working within the legislative branch, the challenge is to ask the right questions of the executive so the decisions made by this branch are as good as possible. A major challenge within the executive role is how to respond quickly and flexibly to a changing environment when constrained by the dictates of the legislative branch. A major challenge of serving in the judicial role is having the courage to challenge the executive when they are violating legislative mandate, or challenging the legislative branch when they have decided to violate higher laws and policies (i.e. pass a policy that is in violation of GAAP or federal statute).
All in all, the American governance model handed down to us by our founders is a remarkable model. When the model works well, it means people understand their role and perform it well. We should evaluate candidates on how well they understand their role and execute it.