Professor Sandy Levinson continues to highlight political punits who lambast the president and members of Congress for individual failures of leadership, while failing to recognize structural flaws in the design of the U.S. Constitution that are at least equally, if not more, responsible for the inability of our government to solve the pressing problems we face.
The political pundit class has recently taken to criticizing President Obama for his lack of effective leadership, particularly on issues like gun control. The pundits argue that poor leadership skills are responsible for the defeat of such legislation.
Prominent among these pundits is Maureen Dowd, who wrote a scathing column in the New York Times, in which she said of the president:
[He] thinks he can use emotion to bring pressure on Congress. But that’s not how adults with power respond to things. He chooses not to get down in the weeds and pretend he values the stroking and other little things that matter to lawmakers.
Blame Aaron Burr. Not only did he kill Alexander Hamilton in a duel, he is arguably responsible for the filibuster, the procedural rule that effectively requires 60 votes in the U.S. Senate–ten more than a simple majority–to pass any bill. The institution oft-described as the “world’s greatest deliberative body” has been reduced to a national disgrace, a laughing-stock, a body composed of mostly rich, mostly white men, who can’t even enact legislation requiring meaningful background checks on individuals who want to buy firearms. Read the rest of this entry »
Congress is dysfunctional. Our federal government appears incapable of addressing the most pressing issues facing our country without repeatedly bringing the nation to the brink of financial disaster. Many people ask themselves, “Why can’t our elected representatives rise above petty partisan politics and act for the public good?” Respectfully, I think that is the wrong question. Rather, we should ask, “Why do our elections constantly seem to produce officials who can’t govern effectively, who can’t make the reasonable, rational compromises that make for a workable, functioning democracy?” We should also ask, “Are there problems with the way our government is structured that contribute to its dysfunctionality?” (I use the term “structure” here broadly to include not only the division of our government into three distinct branches, but also the structure, powers and rules governing each branch and the elected or appointed officials who occupy them.) And because the structure of our federal government is determined by the United States Constitution–a document drafted in 1787, adopted in 1789, and amended only twenty-seven times since then (but really only seventeen times if you treat the Bill of Rights as one big amendment)–we must consider whether the Constitution itself is in need of repair. Read the rest of this entry »