May 31, 2016
Constitution Versus Progressivism
For the last 100 years our grand political debate has centered on the tension between the principles and mechanics of the Constitution and the ideals of the Progressive movement. Under FDR the Progressives became known as liberals, but the term ‘Progressivism’ has re-emerged under Hillary, who described herself as a Progressive Democrat in order to distinguish herself from the self-proclaimed socialist who has ‘trumped’ her party’s nomination process.
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Woodrow Wilson believed in a unified will of the voters, molded by strong leaders, and a professionally staffed administrative institution to manage government much as the new managerial class was running large businesses.
Wilson was critical of the structural constraints of the Constitution designed by the Founders. The Progressives sought to tilt the balance of power substantially from the states to the federal government, contending that parochial interests centered in Congress made national action too difficult and incohesive.
Eventually the strong leaders and compliant courts succeeded in implementing the Progressive agenda. The administrative state became a large regulatory state and gave birth to the welfare state.
In Relic. How Our Constitution Undermines Effective Government--and Why We Need a More Powerful Presidency by William Howell and Terry Moe, Wilson’s [. . .] the authors seek a second age of Progressivism. They lament the inability of the Congress to overcome partisan and parochial interests and blame the structure of the Constitution. Their solution is greater legislative authority for the president.
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The Founders may have failed to imagine the kinds of changes the country faced a century ahead, but their concern was not the efficiency of government, but the misuse of its power. Thus they dispersed it between the states and the federal government and among the three branches. The great challenge for the modern Progressives is to make the government more responsive to current needs without losing sight of the potential for the abuse of its power.
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Author Randy Barnett in Our Republican Constitution. Securing the Liberty and Sovereignty of We the People takes an opposing viewpoint: our problem lies not in the structure of our Constitution but in our efforts to stray from its essential principles. Our unelected Administrative State acting like a fourth branch of government has bypassed constitutional constraints and electoral accountability. Our courts have strayed from the mission of protecting individual constitutional rights to upholding majoritarian democracy.
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While our constitutional constraints make comprehensive legislation difficult they also provide a needed break on bad legislation. Barnett notes that the regulatory bureaucracies have upset the balance of power, making reversal of administrative rules extremely difficult. We have found a way to work around the Constitution to pass rules in a branch without accountability yet can invoke the Constitution to block any correction.
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We should avoid bestowing power on any position without picturing our worst nightmare in that position able to exercise that power. Charles Cooke at National Review suggested that the potential for a Donald Trump presidency may make even the Progressives reconsider their fondness for greater executive power. In the aftermath of Watergate, Congress saw fit to reduce executive power.
May 28, 2016
Making a Relic of the Constitution
By Henry Oliner