Separation of Powers
We so often hear about how republicans (or democrats, I’m going to frame this in the light of our current political break down, but it’s all valid flipped around the other way) are obstructing this or that, how Obama couldn’t get anything done because the House won’t work with him, or simply cave to his plans. We hear about how all of our problems would be solved if only Congress would enact Obama’s every wish and dream. What seems to get lost is that these difficulties are not mere pitfalls or unintended consequences of our political system, they are deliberate and perhaps the single greatest source of Americas success.
Take a look at the government of the UK. The courts in that country have no authority to overrule or throw out acts of Parliament because parliamentary supremacy is the name of the game. Going deeper, there is no elected chief executive, the prime minister is simply the leader of the party that holds the greatest number of seats (simplified, but that’s the gist)*. Essentially you have a government that is bound by no constraints whatsoever, they may literally do anything and one party has almost all of the available power, owing partly to the fact that the UK has no written constitution.
Contrast with the United States, where the presidency is regularly held by a different party than controls all, or part, of Congress. Further, the Supreme Court is able to toss out laws that conflict with the Constitution. The President can veto any legislation, but Congress can pass it with a super majority if they please. The president nominates judges, but the Senate can refuse to confirm them. Congress can remove a judge or any other elected official for bad behavior, but the system for doing so is a rather difficult hurdle to overcome. Even the states have some checks on federal power, as they alone decide how to award their electoral votes** and the states may appoint senators and representatives when vacancies occur. I could go on and on and on.
These, and many other checks and balances, result in a system that is vastly inefficient when it comes to passing laws and imposing the will of a simple majority on its citizens.
Unfortunately, many people fail to see the beauty in this system, the almost indescribable elegance of it. Just as unfortunate is the apparent and increasing unwillingness of the Executive and Legislative Branches to recognize this separation of powers. Enter the Defense of Marriage act (DOMA). The Obama administration simply decided to stop defending it in court. Regardless of your view on the matter of gay marriage, you should be appalled by the whole mess.
First, Congress no more has the power to define marriage as it does to decide the color of the carpet in the office of Maine’s Governor. Second, the Executive Branch doesn’t have the power to decide what laws should be defended and which should not, the President is directed to enforce and uphold the law as promulgated by Congress, not by his own whims.
Congress shouldn’t have passed the law and Obama should have fought for it all the way to the Supreme Court. Worse even than the government ignoring the Constitution are the people who do so. Gay marriage supporters applaud the president, opponents applaud Congress, both groups ignoring the fact that each of their views constitutes support for the erosion not only of our freedom, but of the bulwark that keeps our government from becoming tyrannical and despotic.
The presidency in particular has gobbled up more and more power as time has gone on, creating an office that is far more important than it ought to be. If the Constitution were held in higher esteem by our elected officials, we would not only be safer, but we wouldn’t be forced every four years to choose between candidates on the basis of which rights we are most content to relinquish.
*There is almost no difference between this and the electoral college system we have. It’s possible, and not historically irregular, for the prime minister to have lost the popular vote but win the prime ministerial post anyway.
**The states are not required to hold a public election for president. In the early days of the republic, several states, a majority in fact, simply appointed electors by vote of their respective legislatures. This might seem very anti-democratic but it is in fact just the opposite. If you remember the 2000 election in Florida, it wasn’t clear that the recounting would be completed before the deadline, had that happened Florida would simply have lost it’s say in the election. The Florida Legislature prepared a bill to award the states votes to Bush and ignore the uncompleted election. Obviously that is less than optimal, but its a damn sight better than having the whole state locked out of the voting.