| March 30, 2012

Inverted power structure

I am concerned that the influence of some untouchable agencies and special interest groups are taking power away from the people and those the people select to represent them. Government agencies routinely force their will upon the people, often with political motives. Unfortunately, we have reached a point where our representatives sometimes feel powerless to force the hand of an agency. Lawmakers often have to ask repeatedly for agencies to produces documents, statistics, or even simply appear before legislative committees. This is certainly a case of the tail wagging the dog.

The structure that was intended by our founders was to have the citizens hold the ultimate power. The citizens then consent to delegate some of their authority to elected officials, and those elected officials can sometimes delegate that authority to an agency or commission to carry out a specific function. Those who receive that loaned, delegated power are at the bottom of the food chain, not the other way around. In short, the people are the boss in our form of government. More appropriately, the people are somewhat like a corporation’s board of directors. We may not be involved in the intricacies of day to day management, but we are the owners – the shareholders. We hire the elected officials to do a job. We have the right extend their contract if those officials do that job, or we may fire them if necessary.

James Madison wrote an incredible argument in Federalist 10 to support the establishment of a republic rather than a pure democracy. His goal and that of his fellow founders was” a government in which the scheme of representation takes place.” This was a critical distinction to the founders because they saw the tyranny of the majority to be just as evil as the tyranny of a king. In the founders extensive study of governments throughout history, they had seen pure democracies devour themselves because of the inherent difficulties, and their solution was a representative government where the people retain the ultimate power but select a group of their fellow citizens to conduct the people’s business. Madison called it “the delegation of the government.”

The founders saw establishing this republic as a way to protect the people’s rights, not stifle them. For example, Madison warned in Federalist 10 that although factions were certainly a difficult challenge at the time, we must never take away liberty to deal with such problems. In his mind, a “cure” like that would be worse than the disease. Madison said, “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.” Madison and the founders did not believe in holding power among an elite few or allowing them to dictate to the people. They believed in our inherent right to be free, even if that was more complicated than simply keeping a thumb on those who might see things differently from time to time. Doing it the right way meant doing it the hard way. “As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed,” said Madison.

The founders wanted not to suppress the public but “to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” This means our representatives in government have an incredible responsibility to seek the greatest good, to love justice, and to pay attention to the boss – the people. It also means the agency bureaucrats may need to be reminded who is really in charge.

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