Despotism by Committee

Just for the record, I think Rick Santorum makes a lot of legal sense in this video, and future generations may vindicate his reasoning somewhat. That doesn't mean I agree with his particular opinion, nor do I agree with his politics. But I think he's at least consistent - chillingly, frighteningly consistent - especially in the following passage, where he defends himself from accusations of disparaging homosexuals (some of Santorum's comments are hard to make out, but the gist is below):

What I talked about was: when the courts make decisions, unlike the Congress - if we want to outlaw sodomy, we can do so. If we want to legitimize polygamy, we can do so. We don't have to be consistent. Why? Because we're an elected body, and we can make decisions for a number of reasons that... courts can't do. Courts make decisions based on the law, and the law has reasoning, and reasoning has consequences.

He's right. While the courts have at least the open standard of legal reasoning to which they must adhere, Congress can pretty much do whatever it damn well pleases. The last hundred years have demonstrated that Congress can act in the most arbitrary ways. Whether it's reassigning war-making authority to the President, giving unelected bodies the power to create regulations with the force of law, or micromanaging the country via committee and hearings, Congress has clearly not seen the law as any sort of check on its activities.

It's not just that Congress claims unrestrained power to run people's lives - though it does, as Santorum proclaims. It has furthermore redefined what its role is based on a political agenda. Far from defending even the tepid doctrine of "states' rights", the Republicans have been the key opponents of federalism, and not just through sticking the State's nose where it does not belong. By farming its authority out to regulatory agencies and even the President, it has abdicated what little authority is mandated in the Constitution. It has cleverly avoided the consequences of consistency at our expense.

Not only does Congress invade civil society with impunity; it can also act without any consistent basis or reasoning whatsoever. The chief insight into our nation's accelerating deterioration is that our elected officials no longer feel the need to even pretend that their edicts and whims make sense. Legislators - to say nothing of executive officials - are free to promote the most arbitrary of dictates. Only human character and eroding tradition keep us from "despotism by committee".

Congress has become a venue for low level civil war among special interests - which is the horrifying admission Santorum freely makes. Anything goes, and there's no reason to even pretend a rhyme or reason exists underneath the political jousting. The question is no longer whether our nation can return to the rule of law, but rather the degree to which we must devolve authority in order to achieve civil order.

Whether that means popular secession, civil war, a new political party, or grim surrender remains to be seen. What is clear - and has been clear for some time - is that the nation-state may no longer claim the high ground. Concentration of authority, moderated by federalism, defined by the Constitution - all of it is a failed experiment.

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Written on Wednesday, March 07, 2007