January 17th, 2013 // 8:30 pm
@ Oliver DeMille
The Party System,
Not the Constitution,
Reason Our Government
On December 30, 2012, The New York Times published an article by Lewis Michael Seidman, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, which said:
“…the American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit, our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.”
After such inflammatory remarks, it isn’t surprising that many Americans took exception and voiced their anger at Seidman’s words.
In fact, numerous articles attacking Seidman’s views have received a lot more traffic online than the original article itself.
This outpouring of strong rebuttals is a happy reminder that the spirit of freedom is strong in America.
Few of the responses really addressed Seidman’s main point, however. Seidman’s central arguments were:
- Parts of the Constitution are archaic
- Some are idiosyncratic
- Others are downright evil
- Our modern government system is broken
- The Constitution is to blame for the reality that our modern government is broken
Seidman is dead wrong about point 5, and the tone of his words is an affront to freedom-loving Americans.
But the attacks on his article emphasize angry responses to the first three points, even though points 1-3 are technically accurate.
For example, the provisions which allowed slavery and counted slaves as 2/3 of a citizen are archaic (they were in fact archaic in 1787), idiosyncratic (coming as they do in a document whose whole focus is to protect freedom and inalienable rights), and certainly evil.
Say whatever you want about the founders inheriting the practice of slavery, the need to have unity, or whatever other justifications people use to explain why the framers allowed slavery in the Constitution, but slavery is still evil. It is.
As for the 4th point in Seidman’s article–the idea that our government seems broken–Seidman is only saying what nearly all of his attackers also say and which most Americans now feel.
If Washington isn’t entirely broken, at the very least something is very wrong.
So, giving Seidman the benefit of the doubt, his first 4 points are accurate.
The problem is that he uses these points to strengthen the 5th point, the argument that the Constitution is to blame for America’s current problems, and to suggest that we should abandon or significantly alter the U.S. Constitution.
He also seems to imply that much of the Constitution, well beyond slavery, is bad, leaving readers with the impression that the whole document is entirely flawed.
Seidman is wrong about this.
The truth is that the Constitution is responsible for the growth, success and great wealth and power of the United States, and in fact it is the one thing most effectively keeping the nation from falling apart today.
It has given more freedom to more people than perhaps any other governmental system in history. As such, it is far from archaic or evil.
The most important provisions of the Constitution include the separation of governmental powers into four distinct branches, including three on the federal level (legislative, executive, judicial) and a fourth state level which in fact is given power over more things than the federal government.
The provisions that are keeping us relatively strong and free today also include various checks and balances between these four branches of government, and a Bill of Rights that maintains certain vital rights for the individual citizens of the nation.
Remove these provisions, and our freedoms and national prosperity and strength would quickly dissipate.
But point 4 remains: Our government certainly seems broken, or close to it. And if the Constitution isn’t to blame, what is?
The answer, in contrast to Seidman’s article, is that the growing influence of the party system has subjugated our nation to a series of continual crises.
Moreover, the party system is blocking solutions to our biggest financial problems, from overspending and taxing to over-regulating, further inflation of the dollar, increasing our debt and deficits, and downgrading our national credit rating.
The party system also obstructs progress on entitlement and health care finance.
In all of these cases, the Constitution is keeping us from going too far in any extreme direction, while the party system is keeping us from implementing lasting solutions.
Our government is broken because of the party system.
Note that the party system is not part of the Constitution, though if it were, we could immediately and accurately refer to it as archaic, idiosyncratic and evil.
Nor is “evil” too strong a word for this. Thomas Jefferson wrote:
“Men are naturally divided into two parties, those who fear and distrust the people and wish to draw all power from them into the hands of the higher classes [versus] those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise, depository of the public interests.”
Those advocating the first of Jefferson’s parties are indeed the cause of much evil in the history of the world.
Their push to remove power from the people causes class divisions, loss of freedom, and always ends up protecting the rights of elites more than the inalienable rights of the people.
This is at times called slavery, at others aristocracy or tyranny, and sometimes rule by elites, but it always reduces freedom and opportunity for the masses, and it is always evil.
John Adams said,
“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”
George Washington said that while in a monarchy political parties can be a good check on too much power in the king, in democratic nations parties cause most of the problems.
There are many similar quotes from the founding generation confirming that the party system is a real threat to America. And both major parties are currently dominated by those who seek to take freedom and power from the people and govern from the top.
Today, nearly every way government is broken is a direct result of the party system, while the one thing most effectively holding Washington together is the U.S. Constitution.
We fought a great civil war to fix the archaic and evil provisions of slavery and the idiosyncrasies of promoting liberty on the backs of slaves, and as a result of the Constitution the gains of women, minorities, all religions and other disadvantaged groups have been much higher under the U.S. Constitution than in any other nation on earth.
Attacking the Constitution is the worst-case scenario, because it casts doubt on the best thing about the American system of freedom.
The sooner we can change the party system and instead govern our nation by the provisions of the U.S. Constitution, the better.
Here is what Seidman’s article should have said:
“[T]he American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit, our addiction to the party system, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil consequences. It is time to pass a constitutional amendment outlawing political parties.”
This is America’s real challenge, and until we fix the party system the dysfunction in Washington and the ongoing series of national crises will continue.
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