11 October 2007

The failings of the volunteers

The struggles continue on, year after long year, with no resolution in sight.

Veterans of many battles soldier on with few to come and relieve them.

Embattled on all sides, and unable to meet the heavy loads set to them, they fail at it, even as they are sent to the fight again and again. They volunteer for it, and the People fail to support them.

Is this the all volunteer Armed Forces in Iraq? No, this is a description of another all volunteer force... but let us say that it was the forces in Iraq and we realized we could not leave. What would you minister, just on the bland face of it?

Send in fresh troops and reinforcements, of course!

But if this force I describe in bitter battles is not the forces in Iraq, then who, exactly, are they?

To no surprise of readers here, it is one that we all know and have come to see as untrustworthy in America. This force of mostly veterans with too few new faces and too much work is, indeed, Congress.

Thanks to CQ in pointing to this piece in Politico on House is not a home.

The poor dears in the House have a 5 day work week!

Long schedules!

Too little time in their districts!

Ah, the river of crying has begun, has it not?

I have gone over the concept of a solution for this before, but I will pull out a bit from the folks more heavily pushing the 1:30,000 House concept. They have a lovely file doing long-term trend analysis of the incumbency problem of the US, and it has been in the realm of 90% return rate now for decades:

Courtesy: thirty-thousand.org

This is not a trend that bodes well for America, and, indeed, has pushed down voter turnout and depressed off-year elections on what should, at basis, be the fundamental underpinning of democracy: the House of Representatives.

The above taken from US Census datasets.
Presented in History is not inevitable

These are not things to put forward as 'those not interested not voting'. Indeed, that is a prescription to lose democracy at its base, from a population that is self-guiding and takes interest in their outlook and future. Consider, for a moment, an Anti-Federalist all of whom were committed to democracy, but were arguing the best form of democracy for the United States, Brutus No. 1:
"The magistrates in every government must be supported in the execution of the laws, either by an armed force, maintained at the public expence for that purpose; or by the people turning out to aid the magistrate upon his command, in case of resistance.

In despotic governments, as well as in all the monarchies of Europe, standing armies are kept up to execute the commands of the prince or the magistrate, and are employed for this purpose when occasion requires: But they have always proved the destruction of liberty, and [are] abhorrent to the spirit of a free republic. In England, where they depend upon the parliament for their annual support, they have always been complained of as oppressive and unconstitutional, and are seldom employed in executing of the laws; never except on extraordinary occasions, and then under the direction of a civil magistrate.

A free republic will never keep a standing army to execute its laws. It must depend upon the support of its citizens. But when a government is to receive its support from the aid of the citizens, it must be so constructed as to have the confidence, respect, and affection of the people." Men who, upon the call of the magistrate, offer themselves to execute the laws, are influenced to do it either by affection to the government, or from fear; where a standing army is at hand to punish offenders, every man is actuated by the latter principle, and therefore, when the magistrate calls, will obey: but, where this is not the case, the government must rest for its support upon the confidence and respect which the people have for their government and laws. The body of the people being attached, the government will always be sufficient to support and execute its laws, and to operate upon the fears of any faction which may be opposed to it, not only to prevent an opposition to the execution of the laws themselves, but also to compel the most of them to aid the magistrate; but the people will not be likely to have such confidence in their rulers, in a republic so extensive as the United States, as necessary for these purposes. The confidence which the people have in their rulers, in a free republic, arises from their knowing them, from their being responsible to them for their conduct, and from the power they have of displacing them when they misbehave: but in a republic of the extent of this continent, the people in general would be acquainted with very few of their rulers: the people at large would know little of their proceedings, and it would be extremely difficult to change them. The people in Georgia and New-Hampshire would not know one another’s mind, and therefore could not act in concert to enable them to effect a general change of representatives. The different parts of so extensive a country could not possibly be made acquainted with the conduct of their representatives, nor be informed of the reasons upon which measures were founded. The consequence will be, they will have no confidence in their legislature, suspect them of ambitious views, be jealous of every measure they adopt, and will not support the laws they pass. Hence the government will be nerveless and inefficient, and no way will be left to render it otherwise, but by establishing an armed force to execute the laws at the point of the bayonet — a government of all others the most to be dreaded."
The long-term stand of democracy is above that of form of government - it is active participation in deciding who shall represent you, as an individual, in government for your greater good and well-being. America re-affirms this outlook over a century later when President Theodore Roosevelt would address the Sorbonne in Paris, 23 APR 1910 via the Theodore Roosevelt website:
Today I shall speak to you on the subject of individual citizenship, the one subject of vital importance to you, my hearers, and to me and my countrymen, because you and we a great citizens of great democratic republics. A democratic republic such as ours - an effort to realize its full sense government by, of, and for the people - represents the most gigantic of all possible social experiments, the one fraught with great responsibilities alike for good and evil. The success or republics like yours and like ours means the glory, and our failure of despair, of mankind; and for you and for us the question of the quality of the individual citizen is supreme. Under other forms of government, under the rule of one man or very few men, the quality of the leaders is all-important. If, under such governments, the quality of the rulers is high enough, then the nations for generations lead a brilliant career, and add substantially to the sum of world achievement, no matter how low the quality of average citizen; because the average citizen is an almost negligible quantity in working out the final results of that type of national greatness. But with you and us the case is different. With you here, and with us in my own home, in the long run, success or failure will be conditioned upon the way in which the average man, the average women, does his or her duty, first in the ordinary, every-day affairs of life, and next in those great occasional cries which call for heroic virtues. The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed. The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation. Therefore it behooves us to do our best to see that the standard of the average citizen is kept high; and the average cannot be kept high unless the standard of the leaders is very much higher.
Being a citizen in a democracy is not just a privilege, it is a duty to the upholding of society. As democracies rest upon the consent of the governed, when those that are governed no longer exercise their right to choose government, it is not only the government but the Nation that suffers in lack of legitimacy. We no longer teach upholding democracy and citizenship as a duty, and so we now lack dutiful citizens that support government and Nation.

We have a tired, worn out set of politicians in a moribund institution that was size delimited in 1913 by Congress. That happened in a 10 year flurry of changes on the basis of democracy in America that would alter the relationship of how Federal Government to the American People. Those changes, however, did not press forward the concept of democracy and have, instead, eroded it deeply. By not having commitment to democracy, America no longer generates leaders that understand democracy or that can adequately express any vision for a future of democracy in America or the world. Because of that, we are at a point where the only institution of the Federal Government that is *trusted* is the Armed Forces. And those same Armed Forces do their job while being harried at all sides not only by those firing bullets and bombs from abroad, but by the media and punditry at home.

This is not a stable mix for any democracy. Only the deep seated view of democracy and adhering to civilian control over the military that was put forward by General Washington serves as the deepest check to worse problems. Those same problems are being generated by veterans fighting not just the last war, but two or three wars back, now... in Washington, DC.

It is time to recall these veterans and send reinforcements, and tell Congress it is time to return popular representative democracy to Washington. I am sure it will cause turmoil, of that there is no doubt.

Not doing so will place the republic in even worse danger as government becomes distrusted and hated, the military loved and democracy diminished.

Give the House of Representatives back to the People so we may be heard in diversity and cacophony.


M. Simon said...

I think you have a point. When member districts get too large people think - my vote doesn't count, why bother?

It is obvious if the districts were at the 1,000 voter level small shifts can make a big difference. One vote could be the difference between a win and a loss. Every vote counts.

I have no idea how to change this. It doesn't even seem to be on the radar.

A Jacksonian said...

Simon - Strange as it may sound, Congress gets to set its own size! By law!

The Constitution sets the maximum size by the 1:30,000 limit, so nothing bigger than that... and the anti-federalists went to town pointing out that America needed *more* representation, not less... still, the States signed onto the Constitution...

Of course getting Congress to change that is like pulling teeth against a great white shark in a feeding frenzy.

Strange to think that all of the House plus its *staff* gets you to 1:29,000 and change. Thats right, the entire space to house all of that staff could *house the House*. An amendment to make the representation portion 'equal to' 30,000 and setting House staff to zero would do it.... but you can't get that by Congress now, can you?

The question is: how to lobby Congress to get it to change this? No idea save popular referendum with threat of State called Constitutional Convention. That is a nasty can of worms everyone would love to avoid. And since the States no longer get to send Senators directly, the States can't hold back either Senators or funds for the government. Thank the 'progressive era' for that...

That this must change is becoming self-evident, and not just in 'term limits' because that still diminishes the individual vote. District size is key... the constitution obviously envisioned a proportional system, not a fixed size House, but arguing *that* before any court will be damned difficult.

Check the 1:30000 folks for other ideas.

Anonymous said...

Off-topic (I couldn't find an email address)

Please post your lengthy comment at Megan McArdle's blog on Iraqi infrastructure as a post here. I'd like to nominate it as best post of the week for the Watcher's Council.

A Jacksonian said...

Will have to hunt it down... I tend to be a 'drive-by' commentator or late. But should be able to do so... mind you I'm just working off of a number of previous postings on that material. Easy to pick off the refence material once done in previous posts...