Before I left for Iraq, a friend of mine shared his reservations about me going. Not because of the inherent dangers of combat, but because of his strong mistrust of the government.
The events in the Senate last week surrounding the immigration bill probably only served to deepen his misgivings about our government, especially as the calls to change or kill the bill were loud and clear, yet so many Senators charged forward regardless of the voices crying out, imploring them to stop.
As a result of those events and the final outcome, on one hand, my friend can take heart in knowing that our system worked. But on the other hand, maybe he should also be alarmed at the elitism of their actions and negative responses of so many Senators to the voices of their constituents.
In The Federalist Number 62, James Madison commented that “It is a misfortune incident to republican government…that those who administer it, may forget their obligations to their constituents, and prove unfaithful to their important trust.”
Madison was referring to the inherent danger of a single legislative body. To balance against possible misfortunes, he went on to describe one purpose of the Senate: “as a second branch of the legislative assembly, distinct from, and dividing power with, a first, must be in all cases a salutary check on the government.”
The Senate, by the length of term of those elected, serves as a check and a stabilizing force within the legislative branch. It counters the relative inexperience and wide, potentially calamitous swings in public opinion expressed from the House. The Senate is designed to bring a sense of prudence and consistency to what might otherwise be a constantly set of changing rules from a newly composed House of Representatives every two years.
In considering the events of the previous week, isn’t it interesting how the Senate was the body on a calamitous course, the one which needed checked, and how it finally served as a check upon itself?
Ultimately, our republican form of government worked and there were enough Senators from all political stripes who listened to the people, and acted with prudence, in the spirit and manner intended by our Founders, for what they felt was best for the country.
In that, we can take hope.
But, that hope must be guarded because the reaction of the Senator’s, who in many cases ignored their constituents, was to belittle or demean the speech, intentions, and intelligence of the citizenry.
Several Senators expressed a possible need to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine in pursuit of muting the voices of some who disagreed with them. Others belittled media not sympathetic to their cause. Others accused those who stood in opposition (and did he also imply those who voted in opposition?), as Chuck Hagel did, of “appealing to the lowest political denominator,” as described in the Lincoln Journal Star on June 28.
Illegal immigration is a serious issue for which we must find a solution. But the American people were calling for it to be dealt with in a manner other than that being pursued. They saw this bill as Senator Nelson saw it, as being “fatally flawed.” They were demanding a different course or no course at all. Ultimately the people won, but had to settle for nothing.
Subsequently, the best the proponents of the bill could do was to express an interest in exploring avenues for silencing their opposition. Interest arose from several Senators for possibly reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. Because they couldn’t make an intelligent case for passage of their law, they proposed muting those who were able to make an intelligent case against it.
Fortunately, the First Amendment was put in place specifically to guard against such censorship of political speech and guarantee the people the right to publicly disagree with their government. If the First Amendment can now protect pornographers and those who burn the flag, surely it can still protect the speech of those who disagree with their elected officials.
Yet the willingness of the defeated politicians to begin an examination of ways to have their opposition silenced should give us all pause.
The manner in which so many Senators charged forward with tunnel vision and who now propose to silence the people whose voices finally brought them to a halt certainly produces a certain sense of mistrust. So does their inability to begin to resolve difficult issues.
Senator Hagel is right in that the Senate “failed America,” but not just because it failed to find a solution to the problem. It failed America because so many Senators failed to listen to their constituents and better ideas for such a length of time. It failed America because so few were able to bulldoze so many others and push a “fatally flawed” piece of legislation so far through the process before finally being checked.
The Senate failed America because it forced the system to have to work backwards upon itself. Instead of the Senate standing as a check upon the House driven by a dangerous swing in public opinion, it was the voice of the people which had to keep them in check. Our elected representatives should respond to their constituents, but we should also expect the Senate to act with prudence when others fail. But the Senate failed because it acted imprudently.
And now it continues to fail America because instead of seeking acceptable solutions to the problem, the defeated propose to silence those who disagree with them.