If you have a moment free, read Steve Hayward’s “Crisis of the Conservative House Divided.” If you have hardly a free moment, read it anyway. Then read it again. It is that important.
Steve has cut through the muck — the list of good things that conservatives favor — and he has focused in on the only thing that really counts: whether elections matter any more.
Back in 1733, Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de la Brede et de Montesquieu published an exquisite little book entitled Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline. In a sly passage directed against the French monarchy, he focused in on an advantage that Rome possessed, which everyone reading it in that year would have recognized that France did not possess: the capacity to correct course. Then, he alluded to England’s ability to do so.
What he had in mind when he mentioned England had two dimensions: freedom of the press, and free elections. They enabled the people of England to force their rulers to alter course.
We can no longer do that. We can elect conservatives. We can elect them in a landslide, giving them more governorships, state houses, and more seats in Congress than Republicans have had at any time since 1928 — and nothing happens. The administrative state continues to grow; the progressives in charge force the states to accept same-sex marriage and men in the ladies room; they persuade all the universities in the land to institute an inquisition to hound and ruin young men who have incurred the pique of a young woman or two by stealing a kiss or (more often) by ceasing to steal kisses; and they promise to censor political dissent by identifying as “hate speech” any statement that breaks from orthodoxy.
In response, what do the conservatives in office do? They cower; they run; when put under pressure, they fold (yes, Mike Pence, it is you I have in mind). And when the Presidential candidate foisted on their party by popular fury aimed, in fact, at them speaks an unpleasant truth, they wring their hands. Theirs is the party of the white flag. They show their talents best in retreat.
The history of modern liberty has always been bound up with one thing: the capacity of the legislative power to elicit from the executive a redress of grievances. That is the role played from the medieval period on by England’s House of Commons, and it used to be the role played by our House of Representatives. The chief thing was not their law-making capacity — though that was important. The chief thing that gave them the leverage they needed if they were to hold the executive accountable and stop it in its tracks if it went astray was, as I argued in a blogpost some months ago, the power of the purse.
I do not know what will happen in November. I fear both possibilities. Neither Clinton nor Trump is, in my opinion, palatable. What I do know, however, is that if Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and their associates do not recover for the legislative branch of our government the power of the purse we might as well not have elections anymore. For the progressives will use their leverage in the courts and in the executive agencies to shove whatever measure elite opinion comes to favor down the throats of everyone else. We are no longer a democracy. We have become a narrow, ideologically-driven, highly partisan oligarchy, and it would take something like a revolution to restore constitutional democracy and democratic control in these United States.
Let me be blunt. Under our Constitution, the House of Representatives has the power to stop anything it really wants to stop. All that it has to do is to zero out the budget allocated for the activity it wants to stop. If it is unwilling or unable to exercise that power, it should close shop. The Republicans are the victims of their own cowardice.
This post was originally published on Oct. 23, 2016.