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18th Century Ideal Becomes 21st Century Anachronism

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posted on Apr, 10 2006 @ 01:59 PM
America in the late 18th century was a house divided. The South depended on slave labor to produce cotton, the most valuable export anywhere in the world. Manufacturers in the North depended on the South as a closed market for their goods. It was a love-hate relationship.

The leading citizens of the 13 colonies united - conspired? - to take the government of British North America away from the English crown and the parliament in London. The first effort at setting up a national government known as the Articles of Confederation failed for several reasons. Already the clash between advocates of a unitarian state and those who wanted a loose collection of semi-sovereign states drawing on the ancient Grecian city states model was emerging.

To pacify and keep on board the lesser populated states of Rhode Island and Delaware, as well as New Hampshire and Georgia, the unicameral legislature of the Articles was replaced with a bicameral legislature under the Constitution. The upper house of the new congress would have equal representation of the states. Because senators would be chosen by state legislatures, this feature also had the effect of calming concerns over introducing too much democracy into the forthcoming union.

Finally, the Great Compromise as it was called when it happened, was the agreement to count slaves as 3/5ths of a person. Non slave owners as well as abolitionists found common ground in not wanting to count slaves at all since they did not vote. They were after all, just property. Southern cotton growing slave owners on the other hand, meant to have as many members in the new congress as they could foist on the others. While Philadelphia was the largest city in the 13 colonies, Boston was the most industrial, but it was Charleston that was the richest! King cotton! It is hard for us to imagine how central cotton was to the world’s commerce in the 18th and 19th centuries. “Money talks . . . walks.”

Other compromises that have since been rectified include the taxing power of the Union. Limited at first to 1) excise taxes - a tax on things - 2) import duties, and 3) the sale of lands held by the United States. That was it. It was not until 1913 with the passage of the 16th Amendment that taxes on income was made legal. And thereby the modern welfare state was made possible.

Since 1913, senators have been popularly elected. The franchise was extended to black men (1870), women (1920) and persons 18 and over (1971). The government’s ‘down time’ between the president’s election (Tuesday after the first Monday in November) and the inauguration (March 4) has been reduced to about 10 weeks. (Now January 20).

Although not stated explicitly in the Constitution, and not a creation of Chief Justice John Marshall, he is credited with firmly establishing the “doctrine of judicial review” of both the acts of Congress and actions of the Executive branch, the president. Marshall asserted the Supreme Court had the inherent power to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional as well as acts of the Executive branch. A condition we refer to as the “three separate but equal branches of government.”

Serious problems still exist and are begging to be addressed. Number one on my list and today’s most glaring is the fixed term of the president. Like him or not, we and the world is stuck with Geo W until January 20, 2009. More than 2 years. The Canadians got rid of their PM after two years in office. British PM Tony Blair is skating on thin ice after the near defeat of the Labor Party in the 2005 election. He has lost one vote in the House of Commons, and if he loses another consequential vote, he could well be out of office.

The second serious problem is the requirement that every piece of legislation must be enacted two times, once in the House of Representatives and again, in the Senate. Twice as many opportunities for chicanery and mischief as are found in an unicameral legislature like we have in Nebraska. Although at times I have been glad for the 2 chambers of Congress, as I was in 2001 and 2002, as a rule it is not a good idea because it also takes too long to enact laws.

There is absolutely no evidence the American Congress produces better legislation than the British House of Commons. (The power of the British House of Lords is limited to delay the passage of a law for 12 months, and even that can be overridden by the House of Commons.)

The third and last problem on my list is CFR. Campaign Finance Reform. As our Congress becomes more dependent on the money furnished by special interests - as opposed to the public interest - we will continue to get legislation like Part D of Medicare. Until the public finances public elections 100% we the people are the losers. And also, restore the old FCC fairness doctrine for electioneering. To stop lying on the tv.

I had hoped the Abramoff revelations would inspire Congress to enact meaningful reforms, but I sense that impulse is over. Last Sunday I heard one Congressman argue the system actually “proved it works” because we “caught” Abramoff and reforms are not needed nor indicated! How much more self serving and insular can you get?

What’s your take?

[edit on 4/10/2006 by donwhite]

posted on Apr, 11 2006 @ 01:08 AM
Well, I kinda think the house of representaives is broken and wouldnt mind trying it with just the senate for a while, and most definitly with term limits.
Im not happy with the whole gerrymandering thing but Im a moderate so the idea of a whole bunch of lifetime partisans making decisions for me really pisses me off. I dont want black and white alternating every 4 years or so, I want actual comprimises. Sincere attempts by the goverment to at least try and serve the whole population, not just the recent winners. Still Im sure goverment itself still has a couple of evolutions left in it and hopefully time will eventually bring us something wiser and more effective.


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