When gridlock is gratifying

Obama Boehner Reid McConnell
Photo credit: WashingtonTimes.com

With amusement, I occasionally read the comments from supposed deep-thinkers posting mainstream media news stories, whining ain’t-it-awful about the federal government gridlock.

What these readers fail to understand is that gridlock is a safety mechanism, a great blessing bestowed on the nation by the Founding Fathers. It serves as a brake to thwart temporary ruling factions, determined to embed themselves as permanent, elite oligarchies.

Liberals like Chuck Todd of “Meet the Press” are forever lamenting about the “unproductive,” “do-nothing” Congress that fails to do Obama’s bidding. Such liberals view more laws as good, while failure to pass new legislation means ineffectiveness. But it is a mistake to believe progress comes from more legislation; adding new laws does not beget automatic progress.

Who says our nation needs more laws? “Progressive” politicians trying to expand government’s tentacles, and lawyers who profit from mass passage of more and more complicated legislation. We need to quash the notion that America needs more laws. A more productive use of Washington’s time is to review and repeal outmoded and wasteful laws.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution lived through war, revolution and a repressive English king, and they understood that our fledgling nation needed a governing “system cautiously formed and steadily pursued.” They knew that “good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created,” as philosopher Roger Scruton put it. The framers recognized the frightening power of government, so they wrote a Constitution requiring separation of powers and a high level of consensus before government could act. They purposely made it difficult to pass legislation. Not only was it necessary for two houses of Congress to agree, but legislation would have to be accepted by the president, whose veto could be overridden only by a congressional super-majority.

Federal legislation is designed to be difficult to pass. The Constitution made gridlock inevitable, and attractive, as a way to require sufficient and serious consensus before changes become law. This also means that politicians cannot accomplish anything in Washington unless they compromise. Ideologues may dislike it, idealists may howl, but compromise is how consensus is reached.

These necessary checks and balances limit the power of any temporary majority to fundamentally change the country’s laws. Such limits are threatened when any one political party controls both houses of Congress and the presidency. History reveals that evenly divided federal power, when the presidency is controlled by one party and Congress by the other, usually produces stable, productive governments.

Contrary to liberal theories, congressional inaction means our system is working. It does not mean Congress is violating its constitutional duties, and it does not mean the president can use executive fiat and prosecutorial discretion to bypass Congress.

The business community has long known that when government proposes disputed actions, gridlock is not only good, it is necessary. When government proposals threaten businesses’ survival or stability or loss of jobs, gridlock becomes essential. Building a business takes time, labor and capital, but all that work can be destroyed with one simple government act.  Less government and fewer laws reduce obstacles and quicken growth.

Gridlock is certainly far more preferable than Obama winning his war to transform America. He knows he cannot build in a radical new direction unless he tears down the existing structure. That means things may get worse before they get better.

Standing in Obama’s way is precisely what responsible Republicans should be doing, even if it brings gridlock. The recent election results make it clear that compromising with Obama is not what the American majority electorate prefers. The voting majority wants government to change course. Republican legislators should “dance with who brought you to the party,” and refuse to play ball with Obama.

If Obama’s ignore-Congress agenda is successful, Alexander Hamilton’s prediction in Federalist 70 will come true: “A government ill executed … must be, in practice, a bad government.” Two more years of strategic opposition to Obama just might preserve the republic, so lift your glass in a toast to gridlock.


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John R. Smith


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