The United States Congress is on a five week hiatus from their sweat inducing labor of getting nothing done while making a great deal of noise in the hope we, the American people, won't notice. Much to their chagrin, it seems the American people have actually noticed as the approval rating for our august national legislature is hovering around 17 percent. This, of course, leads to the inevitable question of who the heck those 17 percent are?
Some applaud the fact that Congress has passed so few bills this session due to gridlock. These are the people who believe nothing good can come from government except for the military and pork barrel projects in their hometown. They seem to feel the government should just back off and let us go our separate ways in creating wealth and the good life for ourselves and our neighbors, assuming our neighbors think as we do and carry guns to enforce their beliefs. These people are usually called Tea Partyers and are almost universally blamed for the frozen state of Congress.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have ultra-liberals who believe that pretty much nothing bad comes out of government so long as what's coming out is based on their particular set of rules and beliefs, many of which were set hard and fast during that fascinating time we refer to as The Sixties and Seventies. Thanks to Richard Nixon, suspicion of all things conservative was made so easy as to be laughable. Liberals seem to feel that while government may not have all the answers, it has enough to be (mostly) trusted.
In the middle are the moderates of each party. If they were in anyway as smart and reasonable as they like to think they are, they would combine to form their own party since in actuality, they are probably closer to each other than to the radical wings of their current parties. If they did this, they would win elections, pass commonsense legislation that consists of the compromises needed for a democracy to function and possibly, just possibly, save Congress from being the biggest joke in our country today.
I think what scares me the most is that if there is a power vacuum in the government, the reality is that someone or something will step in to fill it. The weaker and more dysfunctional the legislative branch of government becomes, the stronger the judicial and administrative branches get. The Supreme Court is already essentially creating laws by ruling on some of the more extreme legislation passed both locally and nationally. The presidency has become more powerful with each succeeding executive since Ronald Reagan strolled into town.
For so long as our chief executives seem fairly benign to the majority of Americans, no fuss will be raised as they absorb power once held by the now totally dysfunctional legislative branch. For instance, do people really understand that the Constitution says that only Congress can declare a state of war? Do most people know that Congress has never done this since World War II? Instead Congress has allowed the executive to declare "police actions" or has actively turned over to the executive the right to start hostilities when it felt necessary without any act of war actually being declared by Congress.
We look at countries around the world where "democratically elected" presidents are in power for forty and fifty years and wonder how anyone can truly believe the travesty being played out. No one gets 90 percent of any real vote, let alone 90 percent after forty years in power. But it happens time and again and we snicker and are grateful that we have term limits and real elections that produce real results.
But Americans should take heed and be very cautious of too much gloating. Nature truly does abhor a vacuum. And there is no bigger vacuum in the world right now than our Congress. It would only take one strong executive to turn our democracy on its ear and give us a "President For Life." Remember, the two-term limit was only legally instituted after FDR's unprecedented four terms as president. There's nothing to say Americans won't grow so disgusted by the inaction of our legislative branch that the action of a strong executive branch won't become irresistibly enticing.
Don't think it can't happen here.
Elise Patkotak's new book, "Coming Into the City, " is now available at alaskabooksandcalendars.com.