Do We Really Want Independents To Control Congress?
Senator Lieberman of Connecticut has angered Democrats in his opposition to the “public option” for healthcare reform. Well this is not the first time he has gone his own way. It is perfectly understandable because he is officially an independent and thus he has no duty to the Democratic Party. He answers only to his constituents and himself. Just because he caucuses with Democrats who foolishly permitted him to retain his senior seats on various committees, does not permit them to think they own him or that he owes anything in return to them.
If I were in the Senator’s position, I would permit all healthcare bills to at least get to a full Senate vote, regardless of their content, and vote against them if my conscience so dictated. To support a filibuster is to essentially perpetuate the 60-vote super-majority and extra-constitutional procedural rule of the Senate. This merely enshrines the singular power of each Senator over most any piece of legislation. Some may view it as Egotistical and Machiavellian in its overall intent, but pretty much expected in one of the most elite clubs on the planet.
Some on the right, left and middle of the political spectrum advocate that we should have more non-partisan independent voices in Congress, not beholden to either party. We have 2 Independent Senators and a handful of Independents in the House, and none of them are very predictable, despite slightly favoring the Democrats who are the majority in both chambers for the time being. Imagine if the independents held a plurality in the Senate, House or both, with Democrats and Republicans together holding collective slim majorities? Instead of a great flourishing of bi-partisanship, we might end up with pure chaos and absolute gridlock in our political system.
For over 200 years we developed a preference within our constitutional system for just two parties – essentially the Ying and Yang of our unique history. Some have argued that we could use up to 5 political parties, with a new center and two additional extremes to the left and right along with the Republicans and Democrats. Without sizeable financial support and charismatic leaders for all 5 points of view, plus some major changes in how we conduct Federal elections, I am unsure we could ever achieve such a multi-party system. And it might devolve into a free-for-all without effective party control that would result into more paralysis.
Over the past 20 years with power shifting between Republicans and Democrats, we have had seen some incremental changes that interrupt the continuous flow of relative inaction. This comports with a political system that is not in control of major events and at best reacts to some. Both our political parties have ossified a bit over the past decade as many elected officials have become captives of large campaign contributors and powerful special interests. Some may argue we already have achieved complete systemic paralysis, but I respectfully disagree.
It may be possible to see the growth of independent candidates that can win with just a plurality in 3-way elections is a distinct possibility for the U.S. Unfortunately, the results on governing our country would be anyone’s guess. After some reflection, most Republicans and Democrats might prefer a known opponent to an undulating group of people whose political, economic and social views are completely chimerical and unpredictable from issue to issue, and who have no party loyalty whatsoever.
With a strong independent contingency of elected representatives not aligned with any political pole, and who float back and forth, in and out, around and around, and often completely out of the entire playing field, we might end up with absolute paralysis that would also result in a total inability to articulate any coherent policy positions, whether they be conservative or liberal.
There are limits to independent thought if it can never be focused anywhere. For each piece of legislation, not only would a dozen Senators need to be convinced, now 100 would be constantly in play. At that point, the only question would be “why bother?”
There may be no party leaders left because no one could exercise any control when the participants cannot reliably calculate any group patterns or loyalties from week to week. Being ruled by a group of pure independents might prove to be exciting and entertaining, but no guarantee anything will ever get accomplished.
Over the past 30 years, Republicans have managed more party unity within their ranks so they have been more successful in promoting their agenda as compared to the Democrats. Due to their size and diversity, Democrats have been particularly poor at enforcing party discipline and that has been evident by their overall poor performance in actually getting their agenda passed, even when they have a clear majority.
However, demanding extreme fealty to a narrowly-defined party identity might shrink a party and permit the opposition to win and govern by default. But if the default winners still can’t get their collective act together, then we are faced with continued stalemate and overall inaction. The overall success of any political party depends upon the particular leadership and cooperative talents of its member individuals, and how they can effectively work as a group to achieve specific goals.
This historical and constitutional preference for incremental slow change may have worked for the U.S. in the past when we were relatively isolated from each other and the rest of the world, and we were not a troubled global empire with more than 300 million inhabitants. Furthermore the rapid pace of change during the past decade will only escalate for the rest of the 21st Century. This is simply a result of our global communications and transportation systems, plus the actions of many other countries in an inter-connected global economy.
The U.S. may no longer have the luxury of time for perpetual debate leading to relative inaction on so many issues and challenges. The rest of the world will not wait for the U.S. and they have political systems that can more effectively and quickly respond to global challenges.
Our political system may no longer be up to the challenge of keeping the U.S. as the world’s principle economic, political, military and cultural power, or even smoothly transitioning to a lesser power position in a multi-polar world. There is a point when we have to realize that an 18th Century Constitutional system is wholly inappropriate for the huge demands of the 21st Century. Time and history wait for no one. Someone should tell that to America.