Over the decades, impatience and frustration with the workings of America’s constitutional system has been a hallmark of ‘progressive’ politics and politicians.
Such impatience is unbecoming among conservatives, however, especially self-described constitutional conservatives who, of all people, should appreciate the roadblocks the Founders put in the way of quick, one-sided and often emotion driven action even if it’s thought to have the support of large majorities.
Our constitutional framework is paradoxically both elegant and clumsy and fashioned intentionally that way to be burdensome and hostile toward endeavors seeking both rapid and broadly sweeping policy changes.
The growing impatience among conservatives and, increasingly, the population at large, may be understandable. But it also provides a compelling rationale for a nationwide effort to educate and inform citizens about the constraints our constitutional system was intentionally devised to impose on government action – and why they were crafted.
The checks and balances built into that system, like the separation of powers – executive, legislative and judicial – was meant to divide the federal government so no one branch could dominate. Not only are these intended to guard against the accumulation of disproportionate power by any one part of the government; they were also to act as a brake on the possibility of a tyranny of the majority – or the minority.
They are also meant to be studied, understood and accepted by people who choose to participate in politics and public policy advocacy so that popular expectations remain realistic.
A better understanding of these mechanisms – and the reasons for them – can work against simplistic assumptions that, since poll-tested solutions are thought to be ‘popular’ with a majority and favored by the majority party, they can be easily, even quickly, obtained.
A near-perfect example of this in the 2014 campaigns was the Obamacare repeal promise by many Republican officeholders and candidates. If they won a Senate majority and the power to set the congressional agenda, they said, they would repeal and replace it. The reality of the presidential veto was always guaranteed to thwart that promise. Better, more serious and realistic management of expectations, would have resulted in less disillusion, backlash and anger directed at all of the “promisers” who, in fact, knew better.
Thomas Jefferson said that “great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities” The constitutional system the Founders established is built to ensure that doesn’t happen. Since that system deserves to be valued and preserved, it needs to be studied and it needs to be taught.