As “Black Monday” dawned to the realization that the fraud-filled spectacle of "ObamaCare" has finally passed the House of Representatives, you may have noticed some rumblings under foot. It wasn't an earthquake in the literal sense, though from the perspective of our constitutional republic, it might as well have been. It was the sound of James Madison rolling over in his grave.
Of all the Founding Fathers, Madison was the one who most understood the importance of structure and process in our new democracy. He would have been shocked to hear the President of the United States telling the media that process doesn't matter, or the Democratic Majority Leader of the House of Representatives say that the American people don't care about how the government “makes sausage” -- only that it "gets things done". To Madison, any such talk would be akin to blasphemy: the Constitution was set up to prevent the kind of system where rules could be changed on a whim, and where partisan, parochial "ends" could always be justified by employing "means" which would put government -- and not the people -- in charge.
In short, the sausage making matters.
Madison understood principally that if the American system of government was going to be truly "by and for the people", it had to function in a way that enshrined a balance of power between the legislative and executive branches, thereby preventing both the whim of an executive acting by fiat, or a tyranny of a majority in Congress usurping the rights of the minority party and acting on "winds of passion". The challenge for Madison and the other Founders – particularly Hamilton and Jay, his fellow authors of the Federalist Papers – was to create a structure of government that simultaneously gave vigorous representative power to the legislature, but which ensured that this power would be divided between different branches, two distinct houses of Congress, with different representations, rules and procedures. The goal, as Madison outlined eloquently in Federalist 51, was to ensure that government -- in scope and power – be controlled:
In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
Principal among these “auxiliary precautions”, according to Madison, was to “divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them by different modes of election, and different principles of action, as little connected with each other” as possible. The House of Representatives, then, was to be apportioned and elected differently than the Senate. House members, elected every two years and assigned to a relatively small constituency, was to be the “people’s house”. The Senate, until 1913 appointed by state legislatures, offered equal representation among states irrespective of size and six year terms, insulating it from the vagaries of popular opinion. It also offered clear rules that protect the rights of the minority party from being steamrolled by the majority (thus the “filibuster”). The combination created, in Madison’s words, “opposite and rival interests, and the defect of better motives”. And these motives were – first and foremost -- to create a government that reflected the will and interests of the people.
Given this, one can only imagine the outrage that Madison would feel today as the Congress – the very institution he crafted so carefully – made a mockery of its balanced powers to break every procedural rule in the book to pass a wildly unpopular bill. It was a bill so unpopular, in fact, that the Democratic leadership in the Congress knew it could not pass on its own merits, and within Congress’ normal rules and procedures. After the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts as the “41st vote against ObamaCare”, President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid decided to do an end-run around the Constitution by re-writing House and Senate rules to fit their partisan goals . Thus you had Rep. Louise Slaughter (D, NY) putting forth “Deem and Pass” – essentially passing the bill without any vote at all -- and Harry Reid’s decision to in the Senate to use reconciliation on ObamaCare to avoid the filibuster, even though the architect of the reconciliation rule, Democrat Robert Byrd, has said clearly that the rule is not appropriate for legislation of this scope and magnitude and should not be used.
For the left, such opinions are nothing more than inconveniences. The goals of progressive government – universal health care, wealth redistribution and social justice -- are so important, not even the Constitution itself should stand in its way. Obama has said so himself: In an interview with Chicago Public Radio station WBEZ-FM in 2001, he talked explicitly of the Constitution as a “flawed document” with “essential constraints” that were placed by the “Founding Fathers and Constitution” limiting its ability to promote social justice goals. Thus the concept of the Constitution as a living document, open to modern interpretation and cultural updating. This is no longer a theoretical threat to the Constitution. This threat now sits firmly in power on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
James Madison certainly understood one important thing about the nature of man and power: “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Indeed, our leaders today are no angels. And never have we more needed Madison’s prescriptions for a limited government that operates on rules which guarantee the rights of the minority, and which derives its legitimacy from We the People. They work for us, after all. We don’t work for them.