-By Warner Todd Huston
We are speeding headlong toward a time when our Congress will have become just like Mad King George’s Parliament, that body from which in 1776 the American colonists separated with the rallying cry of “no taxation without representation.” Our national government is fast becoming just as unrepresentative of the people as far off Briton was when we went to war to become the United States of America.
Does that seem like a hyperbolic statement to you? At first blush, it might. But a considered look at the direction in which we are quickly heading will prove that, compared to the British Parliament that raised the ire of our forefathers so long ago, today’s Congress shows many signs of the same, oppressive, haughty, disinterested politicians that considered their national government more important than the local’s interests and needs.
Representation is the key word, here. What does it mean? What did it mean then? Of course, the problem was that it meant two different things to the opposing sides of the Revolutionary era, hence the conflict. In England, representation meant that Parliament “represented” the whole of the country and that each member of that body was elected from their home to go forth and become a member of the whole. British politicians generally did not imagine that they were representing their hometown when they went to Parliament.
As an example of the basic assumption of Parliamentary representation, a pamphlet published in 1765 in London asserted that, “every Member of Parliament sits in the House not as a representative of his own constituents but as one of that august assembly by which all the commons of Great Briton are represented.” (”The Regulations Lately Made Concerning the Colonies and the Taxes Imposed Upon Them, Considered,” by Thomas Whately)
On the other side of the Atlantic, however, the American political system had evolved in the opposite direction. The distance between colonies, the fact that they didn’t all meet together and each represented distinct and separate proto-states, this tended to propel the colonial political scene toward local interests and control. Consequently, when someone was sent to any political office in the colonies, it was expected that he would represent those that sent him, not the greater body into which he entered. Local interests were premier.
Consequently, when it came time for Parliament to consider tax policies to be imposed on the colonists (the Paper Tax, Tea Tax, Towshend Duties, et al), there was no expectation among them that the colonists themselves needed any members of their own sitting in Parliament to represent their fellows. Parliament itself was considered the proper representation of all Great Briton’s possessions regardless of what individuals sat there.
The colonists, however, were quite upset that their own people had no voice in the national body and were incensed that taxes descended upon them without their ascent to the policy. Parliament seemed haughty, disinterested, unconnected and unconcerned with the colonist’s needs and desires and Americans felt as if enslaved to far off masters that never asked for as much as a by your leave. The people and the government seemed in no way connected to the colonists.
Now, doesn’t that sound like Congress today?
Of course, this is not to say that Congress is in every way a far off body of disinterested masters haughtily unconcerned with the voices back home. But who cannot see that it is becoming more like that every day?
Repeatedly, for instance, we find Congressmen and Senators suddenly adopting the national party line and doing a 180 from previous positions — the ones that got them elected — or succumbing to giant piles of cash from interests outside the state that elected them. Remember Al Gore, the staunchly anti-abortion politician from Tennessee that suddenly became a Roe fan once he entered Congress and decided he had national political ambitions? Even this year we saw Senator Gillibrand from New York do an instantaneous about face on the Second Amendment once she entered the Senate. She was well known as pro-Second Amendment and then she got appointed to the Senate and, voila, she’s suddenly anti-Second Amendment. Additionally, Republicans in Illinois just discovered that Congressman Mark Kirk is a proponent of Cap and Trade proving himself amenable to destroying the entire energy industry and laying an oppressive tax on every American despite what they might want. Why did he do it? Because he got money from the enviro-wacko lobby from outside his state and decided to give them his vote instead of the people of Illinois, that’s why. It was a simple, unprincipled dash for the cash.
Increasingly nationally focused Non-Governmental Organizations are gathering large sums of money to influence Congressmen to their cause whether the people back home care about the lobbyist’s issue or not and this is not to mention the increasingly demanding control of the national party establishment forcing Congressmen to spout the party line often times in contravention to what those at home support.
There are many reasons for this. The 17th Amendment, for instance, dangerously detached members of the Senate from local control by making them beasts of the party and elected by “the people,” instead of sent by the states to represent state interests. And there is the increasing cost of running for election. Any more, only the ultra rich can run a campaign without having to worry if the national party will support them financially — and that support is often keyed toward whether or not the candidate assumes the party line.
As it happens, the voice of the folks back home is receding farther and farther into the background as members of Congress pay increasing heed to national issues, donors outside their state, and party doctrine instead of local interests.
How long will it be until Congressmen will firmly decide that they represent “The United States” instead of the individual States there from? In fact, Congress is already far down that road toward ignoring the voices back home and deliberating on what they imagine is good for the whole of the country instead of those that sent them to D.C. in the first place.
So, how are they getting away with it? One way is that, while these unconnected, haughty pols make laws they deem it in their political interests to pass, they hide behind baubles and pork sent home in an insincere attempt to make it seem as if they are “doing something” for the folks back home.
Still, our voices from home can force a Congressman to change course. But it takes the collective outrage of the people back home to force that course correction because all too often it seems as if Congress is intent on its own agenda with no mind to what the little people back home might want. Instead of going to Congress with their constituents first and foremost in their minds, the people are an afterthought as the national agenda is pursued.
Congress may not quite yet be a perfect emulation of the Parliament that taxed American colonists without including them in on the decision making process, but how much longer will it be until that hubris is revisited on the people of this nation?
We should not entirely despair, of course. The true system that the founders created is still there underneath all the garbage that later generations piled on top of it. It will take dedication of the citizens to hold their representatives accountable to return this system to a more pure one, but more than that it will take education. As Ben Franklin is reputed to have said to a woman wondering what the founder had wrought, we have a Republic “if we can keep it.” That takes educating ourselves on the issues as well as just how our government is supposed to work.
All is not lost, to be sure. But with the poor education we are now offering our youth, it cannot be much longer before no one has the slightest clue what it was that the founders created and just why it is special enough not to let slip through our fingers.
We conservatives serve as the stopgap to the degradation of our country. Liberals and the uneducated see no reason not to rush headlong to wholesale destruction of what the United States “is.” They just don’t care a whit about what we are. Like Buckley said, it is our duty to stand athwart their path and yell STOP. But our duty is not just to be bellicose. Ours is to educate and keep this country on the straight and narrow and one of those duties involves holding our representatives accountable within the American system. We can fix it, if we have the fortitude. The alternative is to lose the world’s greatest nation and to see our great experiment end in failure and that is just what the left wants.