- (Photo: Reuters/Gary Cameron)
A previous Christian Post analysis noted that the root cause of the current government shutdown is the design of our government. Our Founding Fathers, in other words, are to blame for the shutdown. One of those Founding Fathers, James Madison, can also help us understand why President Barack Obama has the upper hand in his fight with Congress.
In Federalist #51, Madison explains why our government was designed with the principle of so-called "checks and balances." The three branches of government were designed such that "each may be a check on the other," he wrote.
People are inherently selfish and apt to abuse their power, Madison argued: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary."
This, of course, poses a problem for a government of the people, by the people. If people are inherently selfish, how can they choose people to represent them in government who will look out for their interests?
Madison's answer is to design a government in which power is diffuse, spread across three branches, and each branch is given power over the others: "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition."
There is one further problem, though. If the branches are divided between the legislative authority (making the laws), executive authority (executing the laws) and judicial authority (judging the laws), one of those, the legislature, will necessarily be more powerful than the other two: "In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates."
After all, compared to executing and judging laws, the ability to actually make the laws to begin with is much more influential. What to do? Madison wants a government of three co-equal branches, but one of those branches will be given authority that makes it obviously more powerful than the other two.
His answer – design Congress to be dysfunctional: "The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit."
So, Congress was purposely designed to be an institution that would have difficulty accomplishing its goals and purposes. This was done by creating two different houses, each with different terms of office and different modes of election. In making Congress more dysfunctional than the other two branches, Madison and the rest of the Founding Fathers were seeking to make sure that its ultimate authority, the power to make the laws, would not give it too much of an upper hand relative to the other two branches.
Any summary look at the history of Congress and the current government suggests that our Founding Fathers were successful in their attempt to provide us with a dysfunctional Congress.
The lesson to be learned from Madison with regard to the shutdown is that Obama will be more powerful than Congress in the fight. Not because the executive is inherently more powerful than the legislature (it is not), but because Congress cannot get its act together. Indeed, it is even worse than that for Republicans because one-half of the Congress, the Senate, is in Obama's camp, controlled by the Democrats.
Republicans only control one-half of the legislative branch, and a legislative branch that was designed to be dysfunctional to begin with, yet they are trying to make large-scale changes to the new healthcare law. Sweeping policy changes are not possible from that base of power. This is not a fight they can win.