You’ve heard the saying, "Two things you should never watch being made -- a law and sausage." I don't agree with half of that. I've been involved in lawmaking as a Lieutenant Governor presiding over the State Senate and as a Governor negotiating every step of the process with a legislature that was 90 percent Democrat. I've also seen sausage made.
I still eat sausage.
For the faint of heart and those without a strong stomach, seeing the process of politics become the process of governing can result in serious reactions. It's not a pretty process. It can be tedious, exasperating, and embarrassing. But let me let you in on a little secret: it’s supposed to be!
Recently, some Congressional Democrats have been publicly ranting over what an offense to “our democracy” it is that they can’t ram through their agenda with a one-vote majority. Some are pushing to blow up the system that slows down their efforts to enact what they claim “the people” (i.e., “them”) want, from eliminating the Senate filibuster to stacking the Supreme Court with partisan political appointees.
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This is what John Adams called “the tyranny of the majority.” It’s not only poison to the American system, it’s also a really stupid political tactic. Apparently, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin were the only Democrats who understood how dumb it is to strip all power from the minority when you’re just one election and one seat away from being the minority yourself (see the 2022 House elections.)
As hard as it may be to believe, making a law was never designed by our Founding Fathers to be quick and simple. When they wrote and approved the Constitution, they intended for the passage of a bill into law to be a hard slog. They feared that passion would overwhelm reason and thoughtfulness, and so they built in plenty of speed bumps to make sure that a bill never whizzed through Congress and got signed by the President as hurriedly as some celebrities go through rounds of rehab.
Now, I'm pretty sure that the Founding Fathers didn't want total gridlock in Congress, but as much as it may surprise you, they would prefer gridlock to haste. Why? Because they feared government in the same way I fear snakes, spiders, and sharks. They knew that the sheer power of it is an intoxicant and that most of the people who enter government will be like sixteen-year-old boys with keys to the liquor cabinet whose parents are gone for the weekend.Watching Congress make laws and oversee regulation is a lot like watching sixteen-year-olds with booze and a BMW. You get the distinct impression that they have no business with either one, and a crash is inevitable.
This is why I have long been a proponent of term limits, which are hardly a new idea. The concept dates back to ancient Rome and Greece, with the great Greek philosopher Aristotle observing, “It is not so easy to do wrong in a short as in a long tenure of office.”
This idea was most famously summed up many years later by English historian, politician and author Lord Acton, who said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” The current DC bureaucracy seems to be trying their best to become a living illustration that absolute power corrupts absolutely and turns you into a bad person.
In 1807, half-way through his own second term, President Thomas Jefferson warned that "if some termination to the services of the chief Magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution, or supplied by practice, his office, nominally four years, will in fact become for life."
The popular novelist James Fenimore Cooper summed up the prevailing American attitude in 1838 when he said that "contact with the affairs of state is one of the most corrupting of the influences to which men are exposed." This might explain why so many of them retire (if they ever do retire) as multi-millionaires after a life selflessly devoted to “public service.”
Historian Robert Struble notes that the American preference for turnover in leadership was so deeply ingrained that it took until the twentieth century for the concept of “career politicians” to take hold. Unfortunately, among the many bad ideas that arose in the twentieth century, like Nazism, socialism, and letting movie actors talk, came the argument that a lifetime of "experience" in government was a far more valuable asset than a fresh perspective or a knowledge of business, farming, or other fields in which the vast majority of Americans work. Not everyone swallowed that argument, including twentieth-century Presidents of both parties.
In 1953, after deciding not to run for a third term, Democrat President Harry Truman said:
“In my opinion, eight years as President is enough and sometimes too much for any man to serve in that capacity. There is a lure in power. It can get into a man's blood just as gambling and lust for money have been known to do.”
Interesting quote, considering that he became President only because he was Franklin Roosevelt's Vice President when FDR died in office shortly after being reelected to his fourth term.
Republican Calvin Coolidge, who was President in the 1920s, said:
“When a man begins to feel that he is the only one who can lead in this republic, he is guilty of treason to the spirit of our institutions...It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshipers. They are constantly, and for the most part sincerely, assured of their greatness. They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exaltation which sooner or later impairs their judgment. They are in grave danger of becoming careless and arrogant.”
Old “Silent Cal” must have been truly passionate about this subject because I believe those are the most words he ever said in one sitting.