(I originally wrote this on December 14, 2012)
The American Revolution was fought not only for the immediate fate of the colonists, but also for the future residents of the country they hoped to carve out from Great Britain. The rebels thought, fought, planned, bled, and died for a future where men were free to govern themselves. In the preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America, it reads,
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
We as the citizens of the United States of America have abdicated our Constitutional rights and responsibilities to govern ourselves by vesting power in the two major political parties. The rightful rulers of the United States, its people, must break the power of political parties. The unique system of government bequeathed to us from the Founders of our country demands that the power of government be wielded by the people, otherwise there is no reason for the United States to exist. In the Declaration of Independence it states,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
This was true in 1776, and it is still true today. Luckily in order to alter the form our government has taken we do not need to have an armed rebellion, just a little change in our voting habits, because the Democrat and Republican parties are not true representatives of the people who elect them to power. They are not affected by the laws they pass, they are supported by the taxes of the people, even when they are independently wealthy, which most of them are. Both parties refuse to cooperate with one another on specious grounds, which boil down to the often unspoken cliché of the critic; “I wouldn’t have done it that way.” As both parties tell the Manichaean lie that they are the party of the people, opposing the darkness with the light of rational platforms designed to keep America great, they blame the other side, in an endless cycle of political maneuvering, which has the effect of obscuring the fact that no one on either side is getting done what we the people need to have done on our behalf. The parties have become a law unto themselves, rather than doing their professed job of representing the best interests of the American people. Hence, the power of the parties should be shattered by the American people because 1) the system of government we enjoy is rooted in experimentation. 2) We must grow up as a democracy in the 21st century, and 3) all systems run to corruption without constant and perpetual renewal.
The people of the United States have allowed our national interests to be swallowed up by the interests of the political parties, whose central interests are holding on to their supposed power. We can change this situation, and indeed must, if our country is to flourish. The rebellion against the British monarchy was an experiment in self-government, and was a resounding success. The democratic republican form of government we enjoy today was made possible by the revolution, which was not a sure thing. Since then, democracy has spread across the globe, and is still growing. Monarchies still exist, but the power they wielded in times past has been broken. That is the model for what should happen to the major parties in the United States. The experiment in self-government is by definition open-ended. It will only fail if we do not live by the principles laid down in our founding documents. We must not abandon the experiment. That being said, the Constitution allows us to modify it as the experiment reveals change is needed.
Part of the problem with the power of the parties, is that we have somehow come to believe that this is the way our government is designed to function. It is not. The Constitution never so much as mentions political parties, let alone the system as it currently stands today. The Founders were extremely concerned with the concept of unity. In order for the United States to be a workable concept and be able to function with the Constitution, unity was paramount. In 1858 Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.” While Lincoln is referencing the issue of slavery, the principle of his point still stands; divisiveness creates disunion. In his final address to the American people, the first President of the United States, George Washington said, speaking about political combinations, and associations,
They serve to Organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force--to put in the place of the delegated will of the Nation, the will of a party; often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the Community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public Administration the Mirror of the ill concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the Organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common councils and modified by mutual interests.
We must break the power of parties in the United States by using the power the Constitution grants us: Vote against the parties until they get the message that the representatives we elect represent us, and nothing and no one else. We can do this by never voting for an incumbent again. As we do this, a pattern of one-term officeholders will emerge, showing that simply being a Democrat or a Republican is not enough to get anyone elected. After that, the only thing left for us to judge a candidate’s fitness for office is that candidate’s ideas to improve their country/district/etc. And that is how it should be.
Our refusal to exercise the power guaranteed us in the Constitution is like the young person who refuses to grow up and take responsibility for his or her own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. President Barack Obama said in a television interview that, “The most important lesson I've learned is that you can't change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside.” One way to change it is to stop electing politicians to office who will be there for longer than one term. If Washington is so entrenched with partisanship and corruption that it is not possible for a seeming outsider like Obama to change the culture, then to change it we need to elect a flood of outsiders every two, four and six years, until the statement of Martin Luther King Jr, writing from Birmingham Jail is realized, “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its borders.” Term limits should be imposed on every elected office in the United States, not by a Constitutional amendment, but by the ballots of the voters each election. We would need more candidates if this were to occur, which would allow ordinary citizens to be elected to office. The mirror example is when reserve military personnel are called to active duty. Upon their return, they are guaranteed the job they left to serve will be waiting for them. Considering that congress people are not eligible for the congressional pension unless they have served five years, the pension plan would essentially not serve Senators and Representatives any longer, saving the taxpayers’ money.
We say it is too hard to change Washington D.C., but we cannot know that until we have tried. President Obama himself did not know it could not be done until he was the president for almost four years. We must use the most fundamental power vested in us by the Constitution to change Washington; namely, the right to vote. The best part of changing government this way is that we do not have to wait for the government to fix something for us. It is a false idea that the government is something separate from the people of this country. That is one of the reasons the power of the parties must be broken; the false duality of government versus the people and/or government serving the people is incorrect.
We are the government of the United States. We elect representatives to represent us. Hence, we are the government. As Martin Luther King, Jr, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” We have lost sight of that. And in fact we have lost sight of the power of democracy. Sometimes when a job seems too hard, we abdicate our power in order to get out of doing it ourselves. We don’t want to take the responsibility of helping our workplace be an inviting environment, so we put all the blame on our boss, or his or her boss, or the corporate structure of the company. Which may even be true, but it is not justifiable to solely blame others when we have not done our part yet. The parties encourage this kind of thinking, all the while giving the excuse, “it’s not our fault, blame them!” If the United States was a marriage, this kind of thing would be seen for the immature sham it really is. Imagine two married people both saying to one another, “it’s not my fault, you made this happen! You got in the way of my dream!” We would see a problem there. If two persons both level the same exact charge at each other, then we say it takes two to tango, and that is right. We would tell this couple that they must be more realistic, and must learn to compromise. If they refused this advice, we would say they need to end their partnership. The fact that the parties constantly blame each other for preventing important legislation being passed is proof of their illegitimacy. As Washington said, “the common & continual mischiefs of the spirit of Party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise People to discourage and restrain it.”
Some say that political reform, revolution and repentance are no guarantees to future progress. They say that if we fix one issue, that creates a myriad of other problems. Well, then we will fix those problems, and then fix the problems the former solutions created, ad infinitum. An endless cycle of reform may sound like the worst thing in the world to some, but it is the only thing that will bring continual progress to this great country. Researchers at The Harvard Business School have recently done studies about what makes people truly happy, and what they have found is that, “it’s simply making progress in meaningful work.” (Amabille and Kramer) That sounds an awful lot like the language of the Declaration of Independence talking about our right to pursue happiness. We have an unalienable right, not to be happy necessarily, but to be able to progress toward happiness and felicity. We must stand up and take our rightful place as the true source of power that allows this great country to exist and thrive. Americans are only exceptional when we actually live the principles our government was founded on. So let us start acting like Americans. And if we have an unending task of checking and balancing the government before us as a people, then the great task of guarding and keeping safe the ongoing evolution of democracy is a cause worthy of giving our time, talents, and our lives to.
“Preamble.” United States.
“Declaration of Independence.” United States.
Washington, George. “Farewell Address.”
Obama, Barack. As qtd in Dwyer, Devin. “Obama Says He Can’t Change Washington From Inside.” ABC News. ABC News. 20 Sept. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.
King, Jr., Martin Luther. “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”. 80 Readings for Composition. Ed. David Munger. n.p. Pearson Longman, 2006. 245-262. Print.
Amabille, Teresa and Steven Kramer. “Do Happier People Work Harder?” The New York Times. The New York Times. 3 Sept. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.