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Editor's Blog No. 2: Occupy, the Tea Party and Government Reform


The Tea Party strategy would reform government by replacing the present Members of Congress with members who are more honest, dedicated and inclined to the Tea Party’s   policies. However, this strategy is futile. The problem is not with the honesty, dedication or policies of the present Members of Congress. The problem is that our government is structured to discourage our civil officers from placing the public interest over their private interests.


The Occupy Strategy


Occupy, on the other hand, has a list of specific, well-thought-out reforms which it is trying to persuade Congress to undertake. This strategy is also futile. Occupy may indeed persuade Congress to pass “reform” laws. However, experience teaches us that such laws would later prove to be meaningless - replete with loopholes and generalities. Too late, Occupy may realize that it has postponed any chance of genuine reform by draining off the country’s store of energy, outrage and idealism – to no purpose. Why should we expect the fox to help us construct a barb wire fence around the henhouse? Would you and I if we were in the fox’s place?


The Framers intentions


Our framers understood very well that we humans are primarily dedicated to our own self interests. I think it is fair to say that they were the first to frame a democratic government based on this understanding. They attempted to structure our government so that, the harder our civil officers worked to further their own personal interests, the more they would further the interests of us ordinary Americans.


In Federalist No. 51, Madison called this the policy of “supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives.” The Framers sought to make “the private interest of every individual . . . a sentinel over the public rights.” Madison, for example,  was convinced that the separation of powers would be preserved by the private interest of each civil officer in protecting his “turf” against encroachment.


James Monroe, our 5th president, was just as optimistic with regard to the impeachment provisions. He believed they were the key to making the private interests of our civil officers coincide with our own. He thought that the fear of removal and humiliation would persuade our civil officers that their private interests would be best served by attending to the public business. He called the impeachment provisions the “pivot” of our government.


Unintended consequences


Madison’s expectations have not been born out in practice. For example, Members of Congress have discovered that they can best serve their private interests by (1) abdicating their most bothersome powers and (2) focusing on the art of providing the minimum amount of influence for the maximum campaign donation. 


Monroe would have been just as disappointed with the performance of the impeachment provisions. Hamilton’s successful efforts to have the (judicial) power of trying impeachments assigned to the Senate made them virtually useless from the beginning. For example, in 1797 the Senate exempted itself (and, in effect, the House) from impeachment. The Impeachment provisions died an unseemly death with the acquittal of Clinton in 1999. 




The problems, both with our Constitution’s original flaws and with the constitutional difficulties created by changing times, are too deep to be remedied by Congress – even if Congress were so inclined. A “money-free” second constitutional convention is needed.




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