Friday, July 31, 2009

A Nation of Laws

Doctor Zero on the corruption of the political class.

The American ideal is that we are “a nation of laws, not of men,” as John Adams put it. The unpleasant reality is that the ruling class of any society - including ours - obeys only the laws it chooses to obey. Understanding this reality is essential to making progress toward the ideal.

The population of a country can persuade its ruling class to “choose to obey” its laws through various means, and not even the absolute monarchs of ancient times could casually disregard all of them. Even the more deranged emperors and “sun kings” had to take some steps to avoid antagonizing their entire aristocracy, and the aristocracy had some limits to the abuse it could impose on its citizens. Our modern democracy expects much greater respect for the law, and the rights of its citizens - but our ruling class continues to routinely disregard laws it finds inconvenient, and we have very limited means to compel their obedience.

Of course, there is always the punishment we can administer at the ballot box, but this is precisely what I mean by “limited means.” The rate of re-election for the House of Representatives hovers around 95%, and rarely drops below 90% . Senators enjoy high re-election rates as well, with the worst years of the modern era barely dipping below 80%. The most fabulously corrupt members of Congress have been there for decades. Jack Murtha has been doing his Jabba the Hutt routine in the House since 1974. William “Cold Cash” Jefferson served nine terms, and managed to get re-elected after the FBI raided his offices in 2006. The authors of the subprime disaster, Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, have been in office since the early 1980s, and both survived the financial meltdown of 2008, although Dodd’s future isn’t looking terribly rosy at the moment.

Electoral punishment isn’t much of a deterrent to lawlessness, because there are so many factors contributing to elections. Long-term congressional incumbents have little reason to fear that their power base will suddenly decide unethical behavior outweighs the huge amount of federal pork they bring home to their districts. You have probably heard the supporters of at least one corrupt politician defend them in precisely these terms. During the Clinton impeachment saga, we were repeatedly told that it would be primitive and narrow-minded of us to deprive the nation of Bill Clinton’s magnificent leadership because of a squalid little perjury, committed in the course of covering up a silly little sexual indiscretion.

Personal corruption is not the worst aspect of elite disregard for the law. The growth of the modern super-state has been assisted by the State’s increasing appetite for circumventing or disregarding legal restrictions on its power, most obviously the Constitution. Things have degenerated to the point where no one even bothers asking how President Obama’s trillion-dollar “stimulus” plans, nationalized health insurance, or industrial takeovers can be justified under the Constitution - which is not just a dead letter, but a ghostly outline in the dust where a dead letter used to be. When Texas governor Rick Perry spoke of invoking the Tenth Amendment to resist Obama’s federal power grabs, he was dismissed by the media as a hopeless eccentric, as is the Tea Party protest movement. The media very much sees itself as part of the ruling class, and they regard the notion of restraining government “progress” with antiquated laws, written by dead white males in powdered wigs, as ridiculous. Even when the State does find itself on uncomfortable legal terrain, it can always find a more agreeable climate in the penumbras and emanations of the Constitution. The Left has been describing the Constitution as a “living document” for many years, and all living things can be taught to perform tricks.

Read the rest here.

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