Does this government represent you? 78% of us say that America is on the wrong track. Only 15%, near an historic low, feel America is headed in the right direction. This implies that a supermajority says that their intention, their well being, and their very dignity are being violated.
The “ruling junta” governing the U.S. seems to have forgotten an axiom critical to its legitimacy: “the consent of the governed.” Americans of all parties and ideologies bitterly cling to a fundamental American principle, stated in the Declaration of Independence, that we “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” … and “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (Emphasis added.)
Complaints about the unresponsiveness to popular will have been emerging with greater and greater clarity and force from the populace. They were called “uprisings” by progressive journalist David Sirota, and the “Middle America Rebellion” by conservative journalist Mark Tapscott. Citizen actions by disaffected people are crescendoing from their first (and still most effective) manifestation, MoveOn.org, to the Tea Parties, to — worldwide — the still nascent Occupy movement. These outpourings might not agree on the solution, but all agree on the problem. The permanent government isn’t listening to the citizens.
Major figures on both the left and right are beginning to offer thoughtful approaches. Lawrence Lessig, of Harvard Law School, offers a populist “social democratic” position in his recently released Republic, Lost. Lessig’s book lays out some horrible distortions produced by the current campaign financing system and offers to introduce a non-coercive citizen voucher-based financing as an alternative option.
Thematically paired with Lessig is a new book by populist conservative Phil Kerpen, Vice President for Policy at Americans for Prosperity, Democracy Denied. (Note: Democracy Denied, with excessive generosity, acknowledges this writer as one of its author’s “professional mentors.”) Which one is right, Republic, Lost or Democracy Denied? It is reminiscent of the famous fable of the “blind men and the elephant,” with sages rightly discerning aspects of a much larger problem — the rogue elephant, as it were, in the capital.
Lessig focuses on the breakdown in the national legislature, the problems (both political and social), and offers a dignified solution. Kerpen focuses on the breakdown in the national executive branch, the problems this is causing (both political and moral), and offers a dignified solution. Each writer implicitly echoes one of the enumerated complaints in the Bill of Particulars of the Declaration of Independence. Lessig echoes Jefferson’s complaint about “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny” (Oligarchy more currently apt than Tyranny).
Kerpen too offers a Jeffersonian critique, “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” And “…declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.” Americans, from the very beginning, have never had an especially favorable attitude toward bureaucrats…. The left tends to lean more “small d” democratic — with more direct popular control, as evidenced by Lessig’s optimistic preference for citizen financing of Congressional elections. The right tends to lean more “small r” republican — with a greater trust in elected officials, representative democracy Kerpen provides a compelling litany of unelected executive branch (and independent agencies) setting out to exercise “power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.” This ethic — the people be damned — seems to have metastasized. As this columnist has noted elsewhere:
An article in the March 15  New Yorker, “Obama’s Lost Year,” by George Packer, contains a telling detail about the White House decision-making process, noting that “… the surest way to win Obama over to your view is to tell him it’s the hard, unpopular, but correct decision.”
Key word? Unpopular.
Unpopular turns out to be an … understatement. And nobody has pulled together and documented both the extremity of the executive branch’s abuses more thoroughly or forcefully than Kerpen. Kerpen is a power player, possibly the most potent force inside the left’s feared adversary, Americans for Prosperity. It is quite clear that it was Kerpen who provided the evidence that generated the media frenzy that cost Van Jones his job as Green Jobs Czar and cost this president’s proposed Internet Czar Susan Crawford her appointment.
Kerpen lays out a bill of particulars on his indictment that would have done Jefferson proud. The EPA’s “extreme power abuse;” The FCC’s Internet Takeover; the secret plan to force union membership (Note: this writer is, voluntarily and with pride, a member of the AFL-CIO but believes that forced unionization is bad for us rank and file members and for unions who thereafter do not have to earn our loyalty… and dues); demonstrates chillingly how Obamacare threatens to worsen our health care crisis, thereby violating the first tenet of the Hippocratic Oath — first do no harm; and the explosion of regulations strangling our personal financial affairs, damaging our national ability to generate affordable energy; shocking land grabs. This enumerates only the highlights.
But what is most compelling about Kerpen’s book is the fact that it lays out a practical, sensible, powerful solution: The REINS Act. The REINS Act, simply put, requires the Congress to affirmatively approve any executive branch or independent agency regulations that have a material effect on the national economy. This restores accountability to our elected officials, rather than leaving the immense regulatory power in the hands of the iconic faceless bureaucrats conveniently “invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.”
Lessig, heroically, has the rogue elephant of our runaway federal government by the tail and Kerpen, intrepidly, has it by the … um, both ears. Lessig is outside Washington, inspiring (with this columnist’s active support) a joint insurgency by humanitarian populists against careerist elitists. Insiders report that Kerpen’s behind-the-scenes effort were critical to getting the REINS Act into the recent Republican Jobs Bill.
Bravo to each of them and to dozens of less prominent heroes. But lost, denied, or otherwise, this remains a democracy, a republic. And there is only so much that these commandos, however courageous and tenacious, can accomplish. Thus, dear readers, whether you be Progressives inspired by Lessig’s prescription in Republic, Lost or conservatives engaged by Kerpen’s Democracy Denied, it is time for you to engage. Your power, your opinion, your good opinion (of your elected officials!) and your vote is far more potent than you may yet understand.
Be heard, be relentless, and if you’d like to come into league with other reformers join Lessig’s Rootstrikers.org or Kerpen’s Americans for Prosperity (to which this writer belongs). Indeed, our republic: lost! Our democracy? Denied! But you occupy the most noble office under either a democracy or a republic: the office of citizen. All depends upon your now engaging and exercising your supreme power.