Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Gangster Government

HT: the Rev. James McDonald

The above Republican Congressman from Minnesota makes a few very good points. She quotes a columnist who describes the new business paradigm, post-nationalization of General Motors, as "gangster government." It reeks of the old Soviet system where the free market took a back seat to central planning and bureaucratic connections. We saw how well that worked in Russia.

Her observations about the "imperial executive branch" using a series of "czars" to bypass the Congress is correct in many respects.

The word "czar" is a Russified version of "Caesar."

The reason the ambitious Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated in the Roman Senate on the Ides (the 15th) of March 44 BC was the fear that Caesar was plotting to seize power and bypass the Senate, attempting to turn the republic (res publica) into an empire (imperium), thus shifting power from the elected legislature to a one-man autocratic executive.

The assassination did not prevent the empire. For Julius Caesar had posthumously adopted his equally ambitious grand-nephew, Gaius Octavius Thurinus as his "son" in his will. Octavius would later be legally renamed Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus. Largely due to his command of the military, Caesar Augustus succeeded in turning the Senate into largely an advisory body to rubber stamp his own commands (imperia). Thus, while the people of Rome had all the trappings of a republic (a legislature, voting, etc.), the government had become, in fact, an empire.

Subsequent rulers of Rome were likewise given the name "Caesar." The title, synonymous with "Emperor", was to take various forms throughout history and in numerous languages, such as the Russian form Czar (or Tsar), and the German variant Kaiser.

The fact that Americans have been so gulled by the unconstitutional and imperial practice of the executive branch appointing "Caesars" to bypass the legislative branch would have appalled the founders. They would have urged a revolution against such an abomination. And the brazen use of a term related to "Caesar" is a testament to the ignorance of the American people, and indicates what amounts to an overthrow of our republic right under the noses of the people and the Congress. It is the stuff of dystopic fiction.

The Congressman is right to point out the imperial and "gangster" elements of this kind of governance. But where she drops the ball is in her myopia concerning the Congress's own role in meekly surrendering these powers to the executive branch. Congress routinely allows the executive branch to exercise imperial powers not granted by the Constitution - especially when the presidency is controlled by the same party as Congress. For example, following the precedent of President Truman's prosecution of the Korean War without a declaration of war by Congress, Republican and Democratic Congresses have routinely surrendered this authority given only to them by the Constitution, with the result that since World War II, presidents of both parties have sent troops into hundreds of combat situations all without a single congressional declaration of war!

And this is the Congressman's other shortcoming: her analysis is hopelessly partisan. While she is correct that the appointment of czars is imperialistic and contrary to the nature of republican government (not to mention the Constitution), and she is also correct that the Obama administration has vastly expanded the use of czars - she conveniently forgets that Republicans have likewise appointed czars of their own when it came to matters of their own agendas. For example, the Nixon and Ford administrations created the "drug czar," and the George W. Bush administration created the "war czar" and the "terrorism czar,"- but now, the very precedents they set in the use of these unconstitutional imperial "czars" are coming home to roost.

The problem with either granting, or surrendering, power to another branch of government while that other branch is controlled by one's own party, is (and this ought to be obvious) that when the political worm turns, all you've done is arm your opponent. Instead of being content with the powers delegated by the Constitution, Democrats and Republicans are eager to seize more and more power - all the while complaining bitterly when their political opponents make use of the same usurped authority.

The Republicans have gleefully pushed an imperial presidency - especially in the interest of bypassing Democrat Congresses. The Congress and the Republican Party have created the imperial monster through their own short-sidedness and cavalier attitude toward the Constitution. It's a little late to complain about it now.

If we are ever to restore our republic (something the Romans were never able to do), there will have to be a revolution of sorts that will see Democrats and Republicans in Congress standing up together to challenge the executive branch - regardless of party - and working together to roll back the imperial powers that have arisen in the American presidency. This is not likely, for the presidency is a prize that both Democrats and Republicans covet - precisely because of the executive branch's centralization of power.

Conservatives who are interested in restoring the republic need to stop giving the Republican Party a free pass, and stop laying the blame for this explosion of executive power exclusively at the feet of Obama, Clinton, Carter, and Johnson, all the while overlooking the imperial power-grabs of Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and the two Bush administrations.

I fear that the Congressman's objections are not so much that the President has this kind of power so much as her concern is that the Democrats have this kind of power. And as long as this kind of partisanship continues, the imperial nature of the executive branch will simply grow as Congress becomes increasingly irrelevant.


Past Elder said...

And what was the next step for Rome?

Bloody struggles over succession, imperium by its nature having no means for the peaceful handing on/over of power once the imperator is gone.

Paul said...

Yes, madame representative, this is what we've come to, with the full complicity of the Congress, as Fr. Hollywood rightly points out, since Truman and the undeclared Korean conflict, but really since 1913.