Thursday, November 10, 2005

Thoughts on the reformation of government

First of all, it's not illegal to imagine how another system of government could preside over the United States. It's not illegal to speculate about how such a system could work, and it's not illegal to outline some suggestions. It's not sedition, it's not treason.

How could government be reformed right now? Well I think that to answer that question you have to look at where the power in the government resides currently. It's all nice and convenient to look at the so-called system of checks and balances and declare that it keeps power distributed equally, but the reality is something different.

The main power in the government is of course in the executive branch, being overseen by the President and his staff. This is the only part of government that's actually in charge of the overseeing and realization of legislative proposals in the real world. As such it has much more power than any other branch could ever hope for. The main check on executive abuses is the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court is a bad mechanism for solving a serious problem.

Unelected and aristocratic the Court as it's existed in real life has been authoritarian, meaning that every issue has been thought to involve Constitutional law and every law is judged according to whether or not it meets the standard of strict constructionism. The Constitution, written by men, should be democratically decided on and modified rather than be taken as holy writ. The court's view of the Constitution, the view of the Constitution enshrined in the Constitution itself, is profoundly undemocratic. Neither strict constructionism or permissiveness should prevail; the Constitution itself should be up for rewriting and revision, and should allow wide latitude to legislators instead of overly restricting them. If serious issues arise, they should in the main be settled in the legislature instead of continually going before the Supreme Court, because the Constitution does not provide a comprehensive framework that's applicable to all legislative problems.

The other check against the executive is the legislative branch. There the major method of checking power lies in the potential of various bills to hem in the executive branch as well as the potential of the budgeting power of congress to defund programs and departments altogether.

So, hypothetically, lets say that we got rid of the Supreme Court as a major branch of government, one that would only be used in extraordinary situations. That would mean that power would devolve onto the Executive Branch, which would be no good. The question then would be how to reign in the Executive. One solution to this problem would be to subordinate the executive branch to the Legislative branch. Requiring the executive and all of the cabinet heads to also be legislators, as in a parliamentary system, would help out a lot, but on top of that another parliamentary mechanism that would also help to reign in the executive branch would be the melding of legislative and executive electoral platforms through the executives having to run as legislators.

That would mean that Democrats, for example, or Greens, would come up with a party platform that legislators would run under that would have both components relating to executive action and components relating to legislative action. It would be assumed that if the Greens, for instance, won enough seats that they would automatically gain power in government, meaning that their executive proposals would become the new game plan for the government.

Since the executive would be rooted in the legislative the legislative branch would be able to check the executive by means of concerted action by the legislators making up the party which didn't have power, and by dissident members of the governing party who did. If an executive got out of line his or her own party could recall him, and the opposition coalition could put pressure on the executive branch, causing him to lose his executive post and forcing a new executive to be chosen, or a new coalition agreement, or a new set of elections to determine new legislators.

So far so good, but then that brings up the issue of the entire country being run by several hundred members of the House of Representatives and fifty members of the Senate. The United States is approaching 300 Million in population. I don't believe that even a thousand members of the house of representatives would be sufficient for fair representation. The Senate itself is an extraordinarily elitist and aristocratic institution, and anti-democratic. A unicameral setup would be better, or a bicameral one where the Senate had an advisory role but was generally subordinated to the main chamber of Congress.

Still, even with a uni-cameral legislature, there would be too much power concentrated in too few hands, and would be inherently anti-democratic. The solution would be to devolve power to smaller local entities. This could take several forms. But first off, there's a problem: in terms of population and area most states are significantly smaller than most nation-states in Europe, so simply saying "Devolve authority to the States, weaken the central Government" would not be a proposal that would likely be effective since the states are too small to individually be proper authorities. Having small states with a lot of power and a central government with little power would not work as an integrated political system. A good solution would be to create a new intermediate form of regional government, and let a lot of the power in the central government also devolve to them.

They could be called legislative councils and the basic work which they would be overseeing would be the work that the federal government, in all of its departments, currently does for the whole country broken down for the particular areas over which the legislative councils had particular authority. This means that instead of federal departments there would be regional departments, a regional department of labor, a regional epa, a regional commerce department, regional public works, all of the major divisions, including defense and department of state, and, maybe most especially, regional attorney general's offices. Regional FCCs and regional FTCs. And regional Departments of Education.

There could still be a central government in the United States but it would function in the way that the Continental Congress under the Articles of the Confederation functioned, that is to say that it would be a body that solely deals with issues facing the country as a whole, with issues that could be proven to be being pan-American issues. That would mean any issues that effected several regional governments. Because the burden of proof on whether or not an issue is truly pan-American would be upon the central government to prove, it would end up becoming a minor institution, drastically less active than the current one and more like a customs union governmental entity than a central government.

The Regional governments would be set up along the lines of soft bicameral institutions, meaning that the lower chamber would rule and the upper chamber would have a more advisory role. The executive branches would be made up of legislators and would ultimately be controlled by the legislative branch, and they would follow the platform of the legislative parties.

The regional governments would follow the social, political, environmental, and economic divisions in the country, with one, say, representing New England, one representing the Great Lakes States, one representing the Plains states, from Montana to the Dakotas and then down through Nebraska to Oklahoma. With maybe one representing the Western States and Southwestern States, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona. Rocky Mountain states. Southern States. Mid Atlantic states. The design would be flexible. This would be something which would appeal to people on both conventional sides of the aisle, as well as to radicals.

Some would say that this set up would mean that people who are somewhat regressive with regards to education, labor, and other issues would be able to completely control the regional agenda. To that, I would say "Yes! That's what's supposed to happen!". Let me explain. The best way for people to learn democracy is to experience it and to make mistakes. Under the rule of the regional legislative councils I think what would first happen would be similar to what happened in the former Communist states, namely that at first real hard core free marketers would get elected but when people started to see what the consequences of their actions had been, they would go back to the drawing board, and organize against these same people under a progressive agenda and win.

There would also be regional constitutions, that would resemble much more the state constitutions than the federal constitutions. These would be much more detailed and enumerated than the present federal constitution and would be much easier to change and amend. The Constitutions would, like State Constitutions, more clearly elucidate the powers and responsibilities of the government along with the particular rights and responsibilities of the citizens in the regional area. It would not be holy writ, unalterable and sacrosanct.

In terms of the judiciary, the highest body would be the regional appellate court, which would simultaneously serve as a Constitutional Court.

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