If you want to see broken government, consider the fall of the constitutional Roman Republic and the rise of Julius Caesar: "Fortune turned against us and brought confusion to all we did. Greed destroyed honor, honesty and every other virtue, and taught men to be arrogant and cruel, to neglect the gods. Ambition made men false. Rome changed: A government which had once surpassed all others in justice and excellence now became cruel and unbearable." So said the historian Sallust at the time.
But in retrospect, while moral decay surely played its part, the more complete explanation for the fall of the Roman Republic lay in the consequences of the successes of Rome's vast Mediterranean conquests. The flow of wealth into Rome from the conquered empire -- which had been built to protect the city-state of Rome -- undercut the republic it was built to protect. The Roman constitution had been designed to govern a city-state, but with the wealth of empire came severe economic inequalities that the Roman Senate would not, or could not, resolve. Demagogues arose, private armies were formed -- and finally force of victorious arms replaced republican government.
Another familiar example of broken government was our Washington government in the 1850s, which failed to peacefully resolve the matter of slavery. Once again, force of arms was required to resolve an existential crisis of a republic. Six hundred thousand Americans died during our Civil War. Although I and most Americans (at least outside the South) think Abraham Lincoln acted wisely and saved the republic -- and we returned to more or less constitutional government in 1865 -- it cannot be denied that America got its first real, sustained taste of authoritarian government under Lincoln.
We had better hope our government isn't broken -- or we are likely to have more to worry about than 10 percent unemployment.
In fact, as many have observed recently, our government is working just fine -- blocking the enactment of unpopular laws by a government that is out of step with the people. There is nothing new in that. I served in the Reagan White House and with Newt Gingrich in the 1990s. I recall feeling both times that government was broken -- the filibuster was blocking our majority rule -- because we couldn't get "vital" legislation enacted. (In fact, both times I was involved, inter alia, in the failed effort to close down the Department of Education, saving only its essential student loan functions.) We overreached. We got a lot done, but only that with which the public was comfortable.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.
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