Franke: The Government We Deserve
by Mark Franke
“Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”
These words of George Bernard Shaw, not someone I am in the habit of quoting, certainly fit the travesty that is our national political scene today. Consider the most recent headlines.
We have an ex-President on a crusade to punish every Republican officeholder who fails to show proper obeisance to his mania about having his reelection stolen. Does he even know which party is his? Pogo’s pithy comment that “we have met the enemy, and he is us” describes this fiasco to a T.
We also have a Speaker of the House whose overweening dream is to hound said ex-President to his grave and beyond by creating a farcical star chamber in the guise of a bipartisan congressional committee to serve as her executive arm. Am I the only one who is reminded of the Queen of Heart’s court in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”?
Then we have an ex-President wannabe who sees political redemption in her erstwhile opponent’s problem. She certainly can resonate with the “election was stolen from me” mantra. Let’s call her a modern Phoenix rising from her self-assigned purgatory although we should recall that the bird of mythology tended to self-combust.
Life is imitating art, or at least literary references.
Surely we can do better than this.
What happened to the Franklin Roosevelts, Dwight Eisenhowers and Ronald Reagans who nurtured our national psyche during their tenures? Regardless of one’s political persuasion, each of these presidents led from a position of strength possible only because they continually reminded us of what we could be as a nation. Theirs was not an agenda of blame, incitement and retaliation. They offered hope in difficult times. Americans took pride in our country rather than suffering embarrassment from the conduct of our national leaders.
I confess to looking backward with much too much fondness but who can gainsay me?
We were warned by James Madison in the Federalist Papers about this. The potential destructive evil as he saw it was excessive factionalism. By that he didn’t mean the broad political parties that we have today. Rather, his concern was with small groups that would splinter to the point of making a national consensus impossible. The question of the day was whether the new nation would be too big to be effectively governed as a republic.
Madison’s response was to trust in the citizenry’s propensity for individually pursuing self-interest to the point of reaching a common good. His political marketplace of ideas reflected Adam Smith’s concept of self-interest in the marketplace of economic transactions. Madison hardly expected the new national government to be one of angels . . . quite the contrary . . . so warned against a government that could not control itself.
Which brings us 235 years into the future. Can the Hobbsian leviathan which is our national government control itself? I fear not. My natural skepticism has advanced (deteriorated?) to cynicism.
Has the FBI become the enforcement arm of the Democrat party? It’s not just the recent Trump subpoena which gives rise to this question; that will take eons of court time to sort out. The whole 2016 election interference by presumably neutral civil servants in high FBI positions is chilling at best, frightening at worst. If there is a state worse than fright, then I don’t want to get there.
Our Founding Fathers tried to model the new government on the Roman Republic example. It offered more than a few organizational constructs worth emulating. Yet that model republic collapsed into dictatorship after a century or more of private political vendettas played out as public prosecutions. Once a politician left office and lost his legal immunity, his enemies lined up to ruin him politically and financially. Eventually the provincial governors learned to return to Rome only at the head of an army, and decades of civil wars ensued.
I pray that we don’t have an American Caesar preparing to cross a modern day Rubicon. That can’t happen in America, or so we like to assure ourselves, but who would have predicted the uncivil war still being fought in our major cities? This is not the America where I was raised nor one I want my grandchildren to inherit.
Going back to the Shaw quote above, I find it hard to swallow that I am partly responsible for the embarrassing quality of our national leaders . . . I and 250,000,000 of my fellow adult citizens. As unwelcome as the thought is, we have only ourselves to blame if Shaw knows what he is talking about.
Permit me one more George Bernard Shaw quote and then I will relegate him to the dustbin of my memory ash heap.
“The longer I live, the more convinced am I that this planet is used by other planets as a lunatic asylum.”
Politically incorrect but still spot on, as my inner curmudgeon tells me. Please prove me wrong.
Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.