In his book, "The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad," Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, writes that expanding the number of congressional committees and subcommittees (which began in 1974) and opening up the system to more public access had a downside. The post-Watergate reforms were meant to "make Congress more open and responsive," writes Zakaria. "And so it has become - to money, lobbyists, and special interests."
"From an institution dominated by 20 or so powerful leaders, Congress has evolved into a collection of 535 independent political entrepreneurs who run the system with their individual interests uppermost - i.e., to get re-elected." Once, members of Congress met behind closed doors for "mark-ups" of legislation. There, deals were made. Today's openness means that lobbyists literally monitor the members during this process and if they hear something they don't like, they reach for their cell phones and within minutes, a special interest has swamped the member's office with calls and faxes.
In his book, "Demosclerosis," journalist Jonathan Rauch draws on the insights of economist Mancur Olson to argue (and Zakaria quotes him in his book), "that the rise of interest groups has made American government utterly dysfunctional. Washington is unable to trim back - let alone eliminate - virtually any government program, no matter how obsolete."
That will not change, no matter which party has the majority after the election, unless both parties in Congress decide to repair it. Both Republicans and Democrats helped break the system and voters, as well as non-voters, let them get away with it. We wanted government goodies. They wanted to get re-elected. Lobbyists wanted money. It was an unholy and unhealthy alliance.
Government is like Humpty Dumpty. Unless there is real reform, all the Democratic horses, just like all the Republican horses, won't be able to put government back together again.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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