Sunday, October 01, 2006

Clock is ticking...

Often I heard that the average life-span of a nation is about 200 years. Obviously this is a problematic formulation since the idea of nation itself is only a couple hundred years old. Nevertheless, the idea that the U.S.A. has reached a precipitous middle-age is not too far-fetched when you consider how radically the state of our nation has changed in just the last quarter century.

Americans are certainly myopic about the relative health of our nation; 200 years of the same government is laudable, but not as impressive as some of the more stable geopolitical organizations around. Hereditary monarchies the world over could do two centuries with their eyes shut.

A recent article in the New York Times illustrates how close we could be to constructing our own demise through political apathy:
By the oldest trick in the political book — the whipping up of a panic, in which any dissenting voice could be dismissed as “soft” or even “traitorous” — powers had been ceded by the people that would never be returned. Pompey stayed in the Middle East for six years, establishing puppet regimes throughout the region, and turning himself into the richest man in the empire...

Those of us who are not Americans can only look on in wonder at the similar ease with which the ancient rights and liberties of the individual are being surrendered in the United States in the wake of 9/11. The vote by the Senate on Thursday to suspend the right of habeas corpus for terrorism detainees, denying them their right to challenge their detention in court; the careful wording about torture, which forbids only the inducement of “serious” physical and mental suffering to obtain information; the admissibility of evidence obtained in the United States without a search warrant; the licensing of the president to declare a legal resident of the United States an enemy combatant — all this represents an historic shift in the balance of power between the citizen and the executive.



There are few checks to the increasingly disproportionate role of federal government. The blame for the shift does not rest entirely with Republicans either, since the Democratic Party is beholden to the same big-money donors. Further, the apparatus for change within the Democratic Party is lacking because efforts to produce the most "viable" candidate have marginalized anti-abortion, pacifist, and socialist secotrs of the party.

The mid-term elections next Tuesday will undoubtedly reflect the fact that Americans understand the threat to the sovreignity of the electorate, but I don't know that enough can be undone to regain our democratic birthright. One option might be to follow the lead of Colorado and give greater access to private citizens to write legislation.

I don't have a pithy ending for this observation. I invite comments to round out this discussion...

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think it is a very interesting idea to let people contribute directly to the legislative process, rather than the current system of relying on elected "representatives" - hoping that something will be accomplished that improves something during the current term of office. With the internet, this is certainly possible. Unlikely to happen in my lifetime, but it would be one way to break up the current two-party monopoly.

J. Kotinek said...

For better or worse, the accessibility (to certain portions of the populace) of internet access and our general tendency to take the easiest path has changed grassroots activism. In the era of internet push-button activism, I think I would--unhappily--side with the framers of the U.S. Constitution and look for a way to limit the influence of the masses.

The tension I see here is how to make the legislative process truly open...the internet is one option, requiring paper submissions would cut down on the influence of internet push-button activism (to some extent, assuming your PAC doesn't have the resources to print out tens of thousands of automatically generated proposals), but would raise other questions about the general accessibility of the system. Where would submissions be collected? During what hours? In what language(s)?

And, perhaps, this topic is answered by the First Amendment in that the answer to bad legislation is more legislation...