Wednesday, September 10, 2008

American Governance 101- Impacts on American Society

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.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more.

So I assume you would agree that the rejection of the eminently qualified constitutional expert, Judge Bork, and the fillibuster of judicial appointments, thereby not allowing a vote at all, is overreaching by the Senate Democrats.

Obi wan liberali said...

Not at all, it was a legislative perogative to refuse support of an executive appointment that was of an extreme nature. The rejection of Judge Bork was a sign that the system worked.

Anonymous said...

There were two separate questions there. One was about Bork and the other was about fillibustering appointments.

Article II, Sec 2 says that the Senate shall provide "Advice and Consent" for judicial appointments and other officers. Fillibustering a nominee is neither advising nor consenting. It is a parliamentary tactic used to prevent the Senate from holding a vote. One could call that "overreaching" their intended role in "checks and balances" as you so persuasively articulated in your blog.

As for Bork, my analogy is Ginsberg. If a GOP dominated senate at the time could "consent" to her nomination 96-3, then the Democratic senate should have similarly consented to Bork.

Recall that Ginsberg has cited foreign law and "international opinion" in her decisions. And you're ok with that as being faithful to the US Constitution?

She also thinks it is consitutional for the state to seize working people's homes to build luxury condos despite the "public use" clause.

And you call Bork extreme?

I call Ginsberg scary.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Obama's US senate record. From the NY Times:

"He was running for president even as he was still getting lost in the Capitol’s corridors."

"he did not play a significant role in passing much other legislation and disappointed some Democrats for not becoming a more prominent voice in other important debates"

"He tended to his image, even upbraiding a reporter for writing that he had smoked a cigarette"

"Mr. Obama took few bold stands and diverted little from the liberal orthodoxy he had embraced in the Illinois Senate."

"he stuck to party lines; there were few examples of the kind of bipartisan work he advocates in his current campaign."

"He disappointed some Democrats by not taking a more prominent role opposing the war"

"the mismatch between Mr. Obama’s outside profile and his inside accomplishments wore thin. While some senators spent hours in closed-door meetings over immigration reform in early 2007, he dropped in only occasionally, prompting complaints that he was something of a dilettante."

And this from the NY Times of all places. And this is the leader you think is going to change things?

Obi wan liberali said...

"Advice and consent" implies "consent". The Senate decided that Robert Bork held radical positions that were dangerous to our Republic. You may disagree with that, and that is your perogative. The Senate also did not find anything disconcerting about Ruth Bader Ginsberg's nomination. Certainly, there were conservatives who worked overtime trying to stop Clinton judicial appointments such as Orrin Hatch.

As for Obama, am I 100% happy with his lukewarm opposition to the worst abuses of the Bush administration? However, I am willing to vote for someone who was lukewarm for freedom and the rule of law, than support his opponent who obviously doesn't value that rule of law. Kneedeep, I am far more liberal than Barack Obama. I wish he articulated better the reasons for opposing the lawlessness and reckless abandon of constitutional principles that our current President and his apprentice John McCain advocates.

But I would rather accept 70% of good policy, than 70% of bad policy. McCain has abandoned his maverik role and has become a stooge for the powerful. His choice of Vice President shows that he doesn't wish to unite the country, but to inspire the conservative base to their worst instincts.

BTW, I am interested in how I can discuss basic fundamental checks and balances and you can then try to turn it into a partisan battle. Are you on the payroll for some conservative organization? Am I, as an insignificant liberal blogger in the most red of states so threatening that you would spend so much time responding to my posts?

You are welcome to reside here. I appreciate the discourse, because if my posts cannot stand careful scrutiny, I need to be mindful of that. But I have little idea who you are, what opinions you have, and why you express those opinions.

Do you have your own blog with your own posts that are also subject to the scrutiny you provide my posts? If not, why?

Best regards.

Anonymous said...

First of all, Orrin Hatch suggested Ginsberg to President Clinton, allowed Ginsberg to not answer numerous questions during her hearning, and he voted for her confirmation. Hatch's deference to Ginsberg was so notable that it was cited numerous times during the Roberts and Alito hearings. In hindsight I wish he had fillibustered Ginsberg, for reasons previously noted.

Who am I? Just a guy with too much time on my hands. I don't work for anyone in politics. I am no GOP hack and have been extremely disappointed with the GOP leadership for the last 14 years.

At one time I was pretty liberal and became pretty conservative over the years. Like a lot of conservatives, I am more conservative on fiscal issues and less so than on social issues.

Probably the biggest beefs I have with some liberals is their hypocrisy on several issues. Example: How can the Obamas, whose combined income exceeds $500K/year and send their kids to private schools, be against school choice for poor and working class families? To me that is essentially school choice for rich people only. Same is true for Chelsea Clinton.

Anonymous said...

This will be completely off the wall from the current discussion, but I think you raise a very important truth in your last statement:

"We should evaluate candidates on how well they understand their role and execute it."

This implies that what we are looking for in a Senator is different (but not very different) than what we look for in a Representative. What we look for in any legislator should be quite different than what we look for in an executive. What we look for in a judicial appointee is entirely different as well.

This could also be extended to recognize that what we are looking for at the state and local level should differ from what we look for at the federal level.

I think that one of our major problems in politics currently is that the voters do not understand and account for those differences of position very well when voting for various offices and when evaluating the different levels of government they are charged with electing.

Obi wan liberali said...

What is interesting to me, is that some understand their roles, and others don't. When people talk about "judicial activism" they need to define it as making law from the bench rather than interpreting legislation as unconstitutional. We have a hierarchy of laws, the U.S. Constitution at the top. Below that is federal statute, below that is State Constitutions, State statutes, etc.

I'm not an attorney, but I think it is important for Americans to understand the basics of the roles of government. I am old friends with former Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini. One thing that amazed her was that citizens of Sandy city would call her and complain about the failure of crews to plow their streets. WTF?

Understanding basic political boundaries and the roles of the legislative, executive and judicial branches, both in the public as well as the private realm shows a serious need for basic education in civics.

In my post, I praised the American system of governance, which I really do think is quite remarkable. The problem is that the American public does not understand those roles and how they work. This may sound elitist, but the problem in America, is not politicians, but the people who elect them, who are ignorant of a basic civic understanding of how American governance works.

Anonymous said...

To borrow a quote:
It's not that you don't love America, it's that you don't love Americans.

As for the Constitution, the left has a pretty poor track record of trampling all over the Constitution in the name of well meaning and well intentioned goals (perhaps).


Affirmative action (read the 14th Ammendment)

College speech codes (read the 1st Ammendment)

Taking private property for private use (read the 7th Ammendment)

Among many others.

Yes, I too am appalled at the lack of understanding of our Constitution and civil framework. But that lack of understanding is by left wing judges.