Political Theater vs. Political Power
Where does the political power reside in the United States? If you base your answer on the meaning of the Constitution you will guess that Congress should be the center of the political power in the Union. In reality, Congress has for decades passed laws to delegate different responsibilities to other unelected bodies.
When you read the Constitution of the United States you will learn that the ratifying states delegated 18 powers to Congress and that Congress has the power to create the necessary and proper laws to exercise these powers. We could the debates the meanings of these powers and how they should be used but the undisputed fact is that Congress should make the laws. The president, on the other hand, is supposed to head the executive branch that, as the name indicates, executes the laws passed by Congress.
Congress started passing laws that establish federal agencies and task these agencies with making rules to regulate a certain area of the economy. The first such agency was the Interstate Commerce Commission which Congress created in 1887 to regulate the railroads. Congress created so many agencies over the years that we have conflicting estimates of the number of agencies with rule making powers.
Given that Congress has delegated all these powers to the executive branch, what does Congress do? Members of Congress are busy holding show hearings to embarrass against executive branch officials. I call them show hearings not because I think that the target executive branch officials don’t deserve the blame and embarrassment, I believe that most our executive branch officials are self-serving people who are in the government either to enrich themselves or to advocate anti-liberty agendas, but because nobody ever gets fired, disciplined, or jailed as a result of any of these hearings and investigations.
All these hearings are there to make partisan supporters of the different senators and house members think that their politicians are standing up for them. Most of the time, these investigations end in a thick report that nobody reads and a number of politicians of one party blaming the lack of consequences on arcane government rules while the other party’s politicians claiming that the whole thing is just a witch hunt.
After the Congress members finish their daily dose of hearings they usually either go on TV for interviews or give speeches to special interest groups who are lobbying them for certain law in exchange for re-election campaign contributions.
Every election cycle, conservatives, and libertarians support candidates for Congress to shrink the government and they only get in return a bunch of speeches, hearings, TV interviews, and excuses. Take the example of Obamacare, the Republicans voted for a full repeal several times when they knew either that the democratic senate won’t take the bill or, after taking the Senate, that President Obama will veto the repeal. But when they got President Trump in the White House, they failed to produce a repeal bill and instead produced a lite version of Obamacare and couldn’t even pass it.
The Republicans controlled the Congress and Presidency during the early years of both Eisenhower and George W. Bush presidencies. They didn’t repeal a single New Deal or Great Society law. It seems that they won’t do much under Trump either and soon they will lose either the Senate or the house or both and we will start the process from scratch.
This complacency and failure of the Republican party shouldn’t discourage us from doing what we can to achieve the vision of limited government. We should keep the pressure on the Republicans especially in the primary elections. Primary elections are the only way to fire some of the politicians who only gave us excuses and replace them with others who may do better. We should also focus on the local and state level to resist the expansion of powers by the federal government. We should support the movements to nullify unconstitutional federal laws and efforts such as using an article 5 convention to amend the Constitution. Finally, we should be all be advocates for liberty. There are several situations where you can advocate for liberty: in conversations with friends and family, in raising your children and as members of juries. We may not be able to repeal an oppressive law, but we may be able to save a fellow citizen from it if we nullified that law in a jury trial.