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On Thursday, April 3, The Heartland Institute’s Author Series featured F.H. Buckley, author and foundation professor at George Mason University School of Law with his eye-opening, recently published book titled, “The Once and Future King: The Rise and Fall of Crown Government.”
Buckley didn’t mince words when he shattered just about every myth surrounding American government. The Constitution, with its separation of powers, was not what the Founders had in mind. They instead envisioned a country in which Congress would dominate the government and in which the president would play a much smaller role.
Buckley offered a clarion warning about the alarming rise of one-man rule in the age of Obama, which he calls Crown government, and which one of our Founders (George Mason) called an “elective monarchy” that was worse than the real thing.
How did this nation arrive at its current state?
Although Buckley is not a Constitutional lawyer, he feels that as an outsider he has a better prospective of what led to American’s transformation to that of an “Imperial Presidency,” a term first coined by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in a book by the same name, who as an adviser to the Kennedy administration, later condemned Richard Nixon’s abuse of presidential power and accordingly called for a return of power to the congressional branch.
Foremost in Buckley’s presentation was how presidential regimes differ from parliamentary systems of government through his evaluation of both systems:
- Most worrisome in a presidential system is that the head of government and the head of state are united as one, in contrast to a parliamentary system where control rests more in party leaders.
- Presidents can hide behind lecterns, but not prime ministers who must respond to questions from the Opposition on a daily basis when Parliament is in session or when the prime minister is in the country. Obama wouldn’t last in a parliamentary form of government where he would have to answer every question directed to him by Republican leaders.
- Presidents have a fixed term, while prime ministers may be ousted at any time by a majority in the House of Commons. In 225 years no president has ever been removed from office through impeachment. Nixon may have saved himself from this fate by resigning. Clinton was able to slow walk the impeachment process long enough to place the blame on Ken Starr. Andrew Johnson came close to impeachment but won by a single vote: 35 to convict; 19 to acquit. The “high crimes and misdemeanors” test of our Constitution requires a 2/3 vote in the Senate. Rejected was what was first proposed by George Mason which called for impeachment based on a “maladministration” standard. Madison disagreed with the maladministration standard fearing that presidents under that standard could be removed for any reason. Evident is that the Framers never anticipated that the presidency would emerge as the dominate branch of the government and that a broad impeachment power might be necessary to keep the executive branch in check. As observed by Thomas Jefferson in his old age, a judgment seconded by Henry Adams, impeachment, as set forth in the Constitution, was not even a scarecrow!
- The president is the only person elected by the entire country and has become the principal symbol of American democracy. While Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution established that the president has the power to run the executive branch of the government, Article II, Section 2 was amended in 1804 through the 12th amendment which set up the Electoral College system which still governs modern presidential elections. This system of electing presidents has given way to the rise of a strong president, helped along by the sick adulation of the president by the media (far better when politicians are considered buffoons!), and a Supreme Court that serves at the whim of presidents.
- The Electoral College system of electing presidents has ultimately produced a different kind of leader who is subject to public extremes of love and hatred, out of which has developed intense partisanship and gridlock. It hasn’t helped that the media has made rock stars out of the heads of government.
- The loss of political freedom is associated with the concentration of power at the top in a president; hence, a “Reversibility” problem exists where people are stuck with bad laws and rulings, i.e., Obamacare. With the power to issue Executive Orders, President Obama is putting in place policies that fit his own agenda if unable to legislate through Congress.
- Presidential systems are difficult to export to other countries. It didn’t work when exporting to South America. There are lots of presidents for life, but never a prime minister; however, in these modern times both presidents and prime ministers have gained increased power.
The issue of immigration was touched upon in the context of how population is renewed by birth and immigration. The intake of immigration in the 1950’s looked like America with 70% from Europe and Asia. The immigration intake now largely consist of those living south of the Rio Grande. They didn’t come here after reading the Federalist papers! Many will latch on to the Democrat Party, being used to having power centered in a powerful president with government as their keeper.
Also of concern to Buckley is our criminal law system. The scope of current law is so broad that its interpretation is often left open to the individual wishing to apply the law. Buckley’s fear is that those having the incorrect political leaning could be arrested or penalized.
Despite the many drawback of our presidential system, what went so wrong that we now have an elected head of state and president who is behaving like an Imperial President?
As stated by F.H. Buckley, “We’ve had a wonderful run for 235 years.” As to the age we are living in, we can no longer count on the courts to protect our constitutional liberties.
Unless there is an extremely egregious nominee, the Senate votes to uphold the nomination. Despite the many scandals that have happened under the watch of Democrats, including Fast and Furious, Bengali, and the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS, because an ineffective Department of Justice and an Attorney General is in place who is tied to the president and not concerned about Constitutional principles, culpability is being denied and justice is not being served.
Then too there is the present Congress whose members are not willing to step up to the plate, but for a few, and take a united stand against Democrat proposals that are wrong for this nation. Not only did wimpy and frightened Republican recently give in to Democrats while receiving nothing in return when they allowed the debt ceiling to be raised, but in dealing with the $862 billion Stimulus Bill passed in 2009, very little direction was given on how this tremendous amount of money should be spent.
It is easier to change course in a parliamentary regime than in one with an elected president. For not only is it difficult to amend the Constitution, but a Supreme Court stacked with judges in sync with the views of a president and a media that fawns over the president create additional obstacles.
As the concentration of power becomes more in the hands of one instead of many, the deck becomes more and more stacked against effecting change in Congress through working within the system. An examples of when change happened from outside the system was the tea party’s show of election might when new comers were elected to Congress in 2010, all united on the pledge to shut down the earmark favor factory.
Also deserving of credit by Buckley was the “Republican Contract of America” written in part by Newt Gingrich and introduced six weeks before the1994 Congressional election. Current Republican members of the House of Representatives and those citizens seeking to join that body, promised not just work to change its policies, but even more so to restore the bonds of trust between the people and their elected representatives. The contract enabled New Gingrich to become the first Republican Speaker of the House of Representative in 40 years. The Contract included 8 proposals outlining legislature to get enacted by the House of Representative within the first 100 days of the 104th Congress (1995-96). All parts of the Contract were passed by the House under the leadership of Speaker Gingrich.
After all the negative views presented, there was something positive news to grab on to. Noted was that all good things seem to be happening on the Right, such as Students for Liberty, as the Left continues to digs its hole even deeper with policies that take this nation in the wrong direction. National referendums could be useful but this would require that all legislators come together and speak about the same problem, hardly likely! Being advocated by Mark Levin and others is a Constitutional Convention. It was slipped into Article 5 of the Constitution by George Mason as an alternate way for amendments to be proposed which says, “If two-thirds of state legislatures demand a meeting, Congress “shall call a convention for proposing amendments.”
[Originall published at Illinois Review]