When was the last time that you felt that your government was being responsive to you, your values, your needs? When was the last time that you felt that the government was there, in the words of the old half-joke, to help you? When was the last time that you trusted the government to do the right thing?
If you are like most of the people I know, on all sides of the political spectrum, the answer is, "never!"
For a long time I have searched for a true answer for why this seems to be true. Some have blamed ideology. Others point to the need for term limits. But these answers seem hollow and superficial. Would changing those things change our attitude about today's United States of America Federal Government? I suspect not. So, my search has been ongoing, fitfully, for some time, since it seems that if one cannot define and truly identify the source of and reason for a problem, there is no hope at all for "fixing" it...assuming that it can be fixed. And suddenly a whole new area of study and possible answer to my ongoing questions came to my attention.
In November of last year, one Professor Donald Livingston, Professor Emeritus at Emory University, gave a speech at the University of Virginia on Republicanism (the government form, not the political ideology), David Hume, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. That speech was broadcast on C-SPAN just last week. Now, most of us have had ideas come to us suddenly and the proverbial light bulb goes off in your brain. But...this speech was flashbulbs of of incredible brilliance going off continually for an hour of rapt listening...and nodding ascent. Never before had I even considered the effect of our form of government on the current status of the country.
Certainly I had been taught that our government was not a pure democracy but a Republic. But the difference between a pure democracy and a republic was never, at least in my case, a matter of intense or critical study. Nor was there ever a study of the advantages and limitations of a republican form of government.
What an error in our educational content. But, perfectly understandable. Why? To answer that question completely requires the reading and study of commentaries on the subject by David Hume and Thomas Jefferson. Or...for the equivalent of a Cliff Notes summary you might want to watch Prof. Livingston's speech on C-SPAN ( http://www.c-span.org/video/?316075-1/ThomasJeffers ) which would reduce what otherwise would take months of study to about an hour of video. But I will share the substance of what stuck with me from watching and listening to Professor Livingston...and I am confident that substance will get your attention and initiate thought and debate.
The general view of republican governance was one where size mattered, if you were going to have representative rule. If you get too big, you lose representative responsiveness. Jefferson's vision was one of additional republics being formed as both population and area grew, maintaining the people's control of government. The republics would then band together in a Commonwealth for cooperative defense and trade. Up until the Civil War, succession was often discussed and seen as a legitimate evolving action for growth. It wasn't until Abraham Lincoln reflecting the governmental philosophy of Thomas Hobbs, determined, by force, that the southern states could not secede and the "indivisible" term became the norm when speaking about the republic. Jefferson's view of the various republics being the political unit, to one where people became the the political unit and control was to be centralized. The French Revolution resulted in the formation of the French Republic, the first modern large modern state republic, looking to the individual as the political unit.
No one comments on the mutually exclusive concepts of republican government as laid out by Jefferson and then by Lincoln (following the Hobbs model), and yet the significance and effects of this clash on our lives is long standing and enormous. The two approaches are incompatible, as Livingstone states.
All of this is interesting on its own, but you might ask how this translates to our perception that we have lost control of our government...and it is a good question.
At the time of the adoption of the Constitution, the House of Representatives elected one Representative for every 30,000 people. But in 1911 the number of Representatives was capped at 435. The result is that today there is one Representative for every 720,000 people. If this ratio were applied to the original 13 states, the House would be composed of 5 members, and 8 states would have no representatives at all. On the other hand, to keep the same 30,000 to 1 ratio today, the House would have 10,500 members. And the Supreme Court now is the decider of what the Constitution says. This means that we have lost the republican view of governmental responsiveness as well as the rule of law.
Additionally, consider that the number of votes necessary to enact laws and authorize spending, all concentrated in Washington, D.C., is 268, and if you limit that to a quorum minimum, the number drops to 135. This level of representation has resulted in a national debt of over 17 Trillion Dollars, and total unfunded liabilities variously estimated to be anywhere from $220 Trillion to $238 Trillion. This is the burdon that our government has placed on our descendants. To give you some prospective, in 2011 the Gross Domestic Product of all of the countries in the entire world amounted to $72 Trillion.
Now you start to see the source for the correct impression that we no longer control our government.
So...what to do.
David Hume wrote on how to solve the problem of size and save the responsiveness of government in a large republic. Both he and Jefferson realized the greatest danger to the existence of a republic was corruption; the danger of a group of representatives to make decisions for their own purposes and aims. The answer was to divide America into 100 republics, not states, and move the House of Representatives out of Washington to each republic capitol, with each republic having 100 Representatives ( getting us back close to one representative for every 30,000 citizens). The Senate would pass a bill, and then it would send that bill to each Republic for ratification.
This greatly eliminates the possibility of corruption, as the cost and logistics of lobbying 10,000 Representatives in 100 different locations would be at best, problematic and at worst, impossible. There would also be the benefit of Representatives living and being constantly available to their constituents at home, rather than in the comforting isolation of the nation's Capitol.
With such a process, the Senate would not want to waste time with bills with "earmarks" and "pork" projects that were clearly not beneficial to all, as there would be no chance of passage by the House of Representatives. And those bills which have merit, but not on the gigantic scale of the Commonwealth, could and would be adopted by those republics individually as they saw the smaller scale need.
Of course, the best operation of the republican form of governance is still the small republic. The analogy presented by Professor Livingston seemed most apt, even if not absolutely correct from a medical viewpoint: when a cell grows beyond a certain size, it divides...when it does not it is a cancer.
I am convinced I have discovered (for myself) why our government no longer serves us; why it may still be "of the people", and "for the people", but is no longer "by the people." Now I can begin to study and ponder on what the solution may be, including those as presented by the application of David Hume's "Large republic" concept. But is seems clear that the status quo has nothing to offer.