Omdahl: Constitution requires lower expectations
Despite the convincing Republican victories in the 2014 off-presidential year election, they will do little to change the Washington gridlock detested by the electorate. At least, that’s what the U. S. Constitution says.
Haunted by the abuses of King George III, the Constitution drafters feared any concentration of power so they designed a system of government that would prevent hasty action.
To prevent abuses, the Founding Fathers divided governmental powers into three branches and went so far as to divide the legislative branch into two houses. Not only does the structural design prevent change but the fact that each branch has a different constituency creates a major barrier.
One third of the Senate is elected every two years, with the rest of the senators representing past elections; the whole House is elected biennially. But then the president has a 4-year term that overlaps two-thirds of the Senate and the entire House.
These staggered elections mean that electoral mandates seldom exist. To accomplish anything, one party has to muster support in both houses and the presidency. So even though Republicans just won a convincing election, they still must contend with a carryover president and two-thirds of the Senate.
All of this brings governmental scholars to label the American political system as status quo. Translated into practice, that simply means that nothing much happens regardless of strong surges at the polls.
The purpose of this point is to warn everyone about expectations based on the results the 2014 election. Nothing is going to happen, just as George Washington, James Madison and those other folks planned.
Some religious Republicans may thank God that they escaped the silver bullet when President Barack Obama and the Democrats controlled the presidency and Congress and frittered away their opportunity without making significant changes in public policy.
They did adopt the Affordable Care Act that terrorized and inflamed Republicans. Even though Republicans now control both houses of Congress, their efforts to repeal the program will be stalled because the President has a veto.
This big cumbersome governmental system minimizes the effectiveness of any one person, even the President. However, in order to win candidates must exaggerate their ability to get the country moving. By themselves, they can’t.
But that doesn’t impair their campaigns. In order to get voters to take them seriously in a system of government that doesn’t, candidates pledge on Bibles that they will single-handedly change the direction of the country. You can take that to the bank. If you do, you will be charged with scamming.
In 2008, the President won by promising any number of programs that could not overcome the status quo system. In 2014, Republicans boldly promised to repeal Obamacare but they can’t.
Despite all of the pontificating, the voters are not fooled. They sense that it is a status quo system and the results of a single election will not shake the world. So they don’t vote. In fact, 60 percent of the voters stayed home in November.
For the past six years, the status quo system has been a comfort to Republicans. It has kept the Democrats at bay. With the Senate now in the hands of the Republicans, the Democrats are comforted because the Republicans are the ones stuck in the status quo system.
The difficulty of getting action out of this status quo system is now compounded by uncompromising interest groups buying both parties. America was practically ungovernable before. With interest groups, it has become more ungovernable than ever.
So expect little over the next two years. Even that may be too optimistic.
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