I am often told that our nation is hanging in the balance, and that if Obama wins the election then all will be lost. In such discussions, however, I am left wondering – what happened to the checks-and-balances within the Constitution? How can one man yield so much power as to single-handedly destroy this country?
Speaking to the frailties of the US Constitution, James Madison – the “father” of the US Constitution – observed in the Federalist No 48 that while not every branch of government “should be wholly unconnected with each other” that
After discriminating, therefore, in theory, the several classes of power, as they may in their nature be legislative, executive, or judiciary, the next and most difficult task is to provide some practical security for each, against the invasion of the others.
In other words, while our three branches of government do not necessarily have to be “wholly unconnected”, we – the people – must set up “some practical security… against the invasion of the others”. Madison continues,
What security this ought to be, is the great problem to be solved. Will it be sufficient to mark, with precision, the boundaries of these departments, in the constitution of the government, and to trust to these parchment barriers against the encroaching spirit of power?
If Madison could see our day, he would see how prophetic his words really were.
The Constitution is merely a parchment barrier and it doesn’t mean or secure anything if (1) the people do not understand it and (2) government representatives do not follow it. The power of the Constitution is found in the knowledge of the people. This has ever been the case, for we even find in the Old Testament that “my people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Thomas Jefferson made this same sentiment politically relevant when he wrote “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be”. It should go without saying that actual knowledge of the principles is necessary for a people to meaningfully support and defend them.
The “spirit of power” that Madison speaks of is the basis of encroachment upon our “parchment barrier” – even the Constitution. When the power to act becomes the epitome of how society views its leaders, as opposed to the delegated duties imposed upon our leaders by the Constitution – then we see the very “spirit of power” that Madison warned would deteriorate that parchment barrier. To be clearer – if the people will accept, promote, and ascribe more power and authority to its elected leaders than what the Constitution actually enumerates, in what fantasy world do we believe that the government itself will live within these same enumerated bounds?
How is it that one man can wield so much power concerning the fate of an entire country? Is it possibly because of people who socially allow, ascribe, and promote more power to the office of the presidency than what the Constitution allows, all in the hopes that ‘their guy’ will win and that everything will supposedly be fine? After all, ‘their guy’ is inherently beyond enough personal reproach for anyone to consider that he will go beyond his Constitutional limits if elected, right?
Sadly, it doesn’t seem to matter who the president is since that person will undoubtedly abuse the power – and who is to stop him? The same people who ascribe to the “spirit of power” that encroached upon the “parchment barrier” in the first place? Highly unlikely.
The president’s duties are few and enumerated, and they are found in Article 2 of the US Constitution. When Madison argued that the branches did not have to be “wholly unconnected”, he also called for securities to distinguish and separate one branch from another. In such limited connectedness it is wrong for anyone to assume that the President of the United States is a super-legislator. Once society realizes that the executive officer cannot act as a legislator, then campaign promises such as Romney’s promise to “repeal and replace ‘Obamacare’” are instantly insignificant, disingenuous, and borderline dishonest – for a President Romney can do nothing of the kind.
The Recommendation Clause (Article II, Section 3, Clause 2) is not intended to make the President a legislative cheerleader – a de facto conventional position that society not only accepts but also promotes. This clause, instead, was intended to signify and typify the anti-monarchical / pro-Republic government that the Colonists supported, as the President would submit recommendations to Congress – thus showing how the “monarchical branch” (speaking of Machiavelli’s construct here that Madison followed) is now subject to the people.
Lysander Spooner, a late 19th Century American abolitionist and political philosopher once noted that
Whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.
Spooner is right, insofar as the people are either ignorant and/or willful in giving more de facto power to elected officials than what the Constitution allows.
As a libertarian Republican, I rarely see things in society’s termed “Obama’s policies” that I support. When I hear people chant how Obama will single-handedly destroy this country, however, I cannot help but believe that these are the very people Madison warned about who participate in the “spirit of power” and who make our Constitution so irrelevant as to be, as Spooner said, “unfit to exist”.