WASHINGTON -- Most improvements make matters worse because most new ideas are regrettable, including this not-quite-new one from John McCain's speech depicting how improved America will be after four years of him: "I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the prime minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons."
But prime ministers sit in the House because Britain's system of government is not based, as ours is, on separation of powers. Granted, America's separation of legislative and executive powers has become blurred. Legislators overextended by their incontinent involvement in everything, and preoccupied with re-election, do more delegating than legislating: Often the "laws" they pass are expressions of sentiments or aspirations that executive branch rulemaking turns into real laws. McCain's proposal would further diminish Congress' dignity by deepening the perception of its subordination.
Our constitutional architecture of checks and balances, as explained by the principal architect, James Madison, is: "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place." This design was supposed to serve various governmental functions -- especially the protection of individuals' rights from government made overbearing by the concentration of too much power in one branch.
But the interests -- primarily electoral -- of legislators have become tenuously connected to the defense of the rights of their place. They are passive about courts setting social policies and supine when presidents act with anti-constitutional independence, especially regarding national security. Routine presidential appearances in Congress, of the sort McCain proposes, would further reduce that institution to just another of the stages on which presidents preen.
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