The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Our Readers Speak

December 29, 2012

Our Readers Speak — Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012


Madison foretold danger of gridlock

It is in horror, spiced with a toxic mix of angst and anger, that we watch government march ever closer to fiscal Armageddon, better known in today’s world as the “fiscal cliff.”

As the media is so wont to do, it instinctively shifts the public’s attention from what going over the cliff really means to the more news-worthy race-to-the-edge question of who will be blamed for it, who will win politically from it. In this classic example of media creating news rather than reporting it, punditry swirls more around politics — the public relations disaster about to befall Republicans and the leverage sure to go to the Obama administration — than about fiscal crisis.

Retired Sen. Alan K. Simpson [Simpson-Bowles], in a just-released video that amounts to “a pox on all their houses,” tries to restore sense and balance to the issue by attacking the “political brinkmanship” and outright stupidity associated with betting the future of the nation in this no-win game of political chicken. He urges all Americans to make their voices heard now, before self-interested pols who really “know not what they do” empty the nation’s coffers and thrust the whole world into chaos in the process.

Even worse than the event itself, dare we project, might be its aftermath; the very people behind the wheel in this Thelma and Louise-like death-plunge are the ones the nation must rely upon to sift through the rubble for answers.

The remedy, of course, resides in some sort of compromise between conservative deficit hawks and liberal soak-the-rich revenue crusaders. What makes the prospects for resolution most unlikely is the so-called “super-majority” requirement of 60 votes that handcuffs Obama, as it surely would have Mitt Romney had he prevailed on Nov. 6. The real issue here is not so much which side is right, it is that gridlock renders our government unable to act at all — even if that action might constitute a huge mistake.

In Federalist # 58, believe it or not, James Madison foresaw this crisis in his defense of majority rule in the Congress. “It has been said that more than a majority ought to have been required for a quorum,” he wrote, and that “in particular cases, if not in all, more than a majority of a quorum for a decision.”

Madison admits that the suggestion has merit, but then berates what he suggests is the denial of majority in favor of minority rule. “In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed … the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed,” he warned. “It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority.”

Such a situation would permit the minority to exclude itself from sacrifices demanded of others, he warned, or more boldly to reward itself at the expense of others.

In what might just be Madison’s most prophetic warning, he predicts that “it would facilitate and foster the baneful practice of secessions [emphasis added] … a practice subversive of all the principles of order and regular government.” Clearly, Madison realized that when remedy is denied through majority rule, there looms the likelihood that the most frustrated will take their ball and go home.

How ironic that James Madison makes the most sense about secessionist sentiments in the face of Obamacare sweeping through the Red States. Nonsensical flagellation by a few fanatics unable to handle political defeat? Madison would think not. Neither should we.

Dr. William O’Brien


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