by John Hawkins
The government of our country has become increasingly incompetent, corrupt, and dysfunctional.
Although Barack Obama has certainly hastened our government’s slide toward mediocrity, the
problems didn’t begin with him, nor are they likely to end on the very happy day when he leaves
Moreover, many of the issues that prevent our government from operating at even the sub-optimal
quasi-effectiveness of the Feds at their best are very difficult to solve. Still, until you
identify the problems, it’s difficult to come up with the solutions. So, let’s talk about some
of the reasons why government in this country no longer works for the benefit of the American
Earmarks: When earmarks first became a hot issue during the Bush years, I have to admit that
I was one of the people who shrugged my shoulders and said something like, “Sure, that’s
something we should work on, but is it really all that important compared to the money we
spend on entitlement programs?”
Let me tell you why I was wrong: Earmarks have become a means of legalized bribery. We get all
upset about politicians who are tied in any way, shape, or form to Jack Abramoff — but what
Abramoff did goes on every day of the week. Where Abramoff blew it was by explicitly saying,
“I’ll get you this much money and you’ll do this for me.” Yet, lobbyists do the exact same
thing all the time, but they just don’t say it out loud. They give money to congressmen and
expect to get earmarks in return. They do, in fact, get the earmarks they paid for — and
it’s perfectly legal.
Keep in mind that although you can find earmarks stretching way back until the earliest days
of the country, using them as a form of congressional payola is relatively new. Just to give
you one example, courtesy of Americans for Prosperity:
- Taxpayers for Common Sense calculated that the 1970 Defense Appropriations Bill had a dozen
earmarks; the 1980 bill had 62 earmarks; and by 2005, the defense bill had skyrocketed to 2,671
As earmarks have proliferated, Abramoff-style government has gone from being the exception to
the rule in Congress.
Political Polarization Unprecedented Since The Civil War: One of the most remarkable things
you’ll notice when you read about politics in say, the late 1800s, is that despite the fact
that both parties fought like cats and dogs, they also had a very similar approach to governance.
Setting aside a handful of differences on things like tariffs, both parties agreed on the
overwhelming majority of issues. Even in this country 40-50 years ago, the parties were much
more similar than they are today. John F. Kennedy is an overrated Democratic President, but
he was serious about defending America, he was an ardent anti-Communist, he believed in tax
cuts — and on social issues, like most Democrats of his day, he’d have far more in common
with Jim DeMint than he would with Democrats like Barney Frank. On the other hand, look at
Richard Nixon, the man Kennedy defeated in 1960. Nixon was a left-of-center, pro-choice
Republican who pushed price controls, tax increases, and created the EPA. So, whether voters
chose a man like Kennedy or Nixon, they still weren’t usually getting too far from the center.
However, after the radical left wing completely took over the Democratic Party in the late
sixties, the Dems became completely dominated by liberals. On the other side, Reagan’s election
and success managed to shift the Republican Party to the right, although regrettably, not as
far as the Dems went left. In other words, the average Democrat in Congress now has more in
common ideologically with Trotsky and Lenin than he does Washington and Jefferson. Meanwhile,
Republicans idealize Reagan, who opposed everything the liberal left stands for. When both
parties start that far apart, it’s hard to work together on almost any issue.
A Far Left Wing Media: For a long time, the mainstream media in this country could fairly be
classified as center-left. However, over time it has drifted from center-left to far-left and
it has affected the way our politicians behave.
Politicians on the Right know they can’t get a fair shake from the media; so they tend to be
overly cautious, even though the populace leans to the Right. On the other hand, politicians
on the Left have been emboldened by the unwavering support of the media. Liberal politicians
know that their every act will be cast in the most favorable light, their lies will be ignored,
and their political enemies will be smeared at every turn.
Happily, this has not gone unnoticed by the public and it’s had consequences. The mainstream
media’s credibility has cratered, it’s losing marketshare to the alternative media, and many
of these left-wing propaganda outlets masquerading as newspapers are going out of business.
Every time one of these liberal mainstream media reporters loses his job, this country becomes
a little better place.
The Permanent Campaign: Over time, as politics has become more professionalized, interest
groups have become more powerful, YouTube and the blogosphere have begun capturing every
detail, and a 24 hour news cycle has become the norm, political campaigns have ceased to
When every vote, every quip, and every campaign stop is going to be noticed, catalogued, and
may turn up in your opponent’s campaign commercial or infuriate a group you’ll be counting on
come election time, the latitude politicians have is severely curtailed.
If you’re a Republican, are you going to cross the NRA? The Club for Growth? The Christian
Coalition? If you’re liberal, are you going to tell Planned Parenthood to shove it on a big
issue? How about the SEIU? What about MoveOn? On every issue, in every situation, most
politicians in both parties have very little room to maneuver outside whatever the party line
happens to be.
Politics As A Profession: As America has become more polarized, the advantages of incumbency
have become more pronounced, and gerrymandering has become more prevalent, politics has become
a lifetime job for many members of Congress. In large swathes of the country, if you get
elected once, don’t get caught with any bribe money in your freezer, and adhere to the party
line, you will be in Congress until your aides are dragging you in off your deathbed to vote
for a pig farm earmark for your district. The problem with that is simple: A lot of these
career politicians in Congress no longer have to pay any attention to the other side, their
own constituents, or to anyone other than extremist interest groups who could potentially
back a primary challenger. That’s not good for this country.
The 17th Amendment: Almost all Americans have grown up with the idea of senators being popularly
elected, but it wasn’t always that way. Up until 1913, senators were elected by state
legislatures and in all honesty, despite the fact that there were some problems with that
process, it was far better for the country. Why? Because senators elected by state legislatures
zealously guarded the power of the states. That was good for the country because as a general
rule, the more localized the government, the better it can know the needs of its citizens and
the better able it is to serve them.
Once senators no longer had to answer to state legislatures, they were incentivized to
concentrate more power in their own hands, in D.C. Despite the fact that there are still a few
people on the “repeal the 17th Amendment” bandwagon, that horse has long since left the barn
and isn’t likely to be coaxed back inside.
The Tenth Amendment Doesn’t Exist In The Real World: Our Founding Fathers would be shocked and
appalled by the way we openly disregard our Constitution. Article 1 Section 8 of the
Constitution clearly limits the powers of Congress and the 10th Amendment reads,
- The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the
States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Since that’s the case, how is it that our government has gone so out of control that the health
care legislation that was just passed actually requires people to buy health insurance as a
condition of citizenship? How long and hard do you have to torture the plain language of the
Constitution to conclude that Congress can force you to buy any product it so desires: health
care, condos from Nancy Pelosi, union cars, Barack Obama’s biography or anything else it wants?
Why do you think we so seldom pass constitutional amendments any more? In all honesty, it’s
because Congress and even many of the judges in our court system pay so little attention to
the Constitution that they just do anything they want. That’s the biggest reason why our
government does so many things slowly, stupidly, and inefficiently: it’s because our system
of government was supposed to preclude the government from doing those things in the first
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