Consider this. Consider this, the hint of the century. Consider this, the slip that brought me to my knees, failed. What if all these fantasies come, flailing around – Now I’ve said too much. I thought that I heard you laughing, I thought that I heard you sing, I think I thought I saw you try. But that was just a dream… that was just a dream. The lyrics of the 1991 R.E.M song might have been going through House Speaker John Boehner’s head when he was listing to the Pope earlier this week, right before he resigned from Congress. When I heard about the resignation this morning I was actually looking through the video of the Pope’s visit to see if Kevin Spacey was somewhere in the background…. But I digress.
Speaker Boehner’s resignation has the political chattering classes all abuzz because it is such a rare occurrence, and while there has been a lot of turmoil among House Republicans during his tenure, it does not appear as if the resignation was part of a coup. Rather, to take Congressman Boehner at his word, he was just tired of the turmoil that’s been churning now for a couple of months that he believes is not good for either Congress or its Members.
But turmoil is what the House of Representatives was designed for. In Federalist 57, James Madison discussed how, more than any other body of the national government, the House was designed to be representative of the people. As Madison pointed out, Members of Congress were totally dependent on an electorate comprised of the general population. Not the rich, more than the poor; not the learned, more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscurity and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States. In addition, by requiring that all seats in the House be put up for election every other year, the structure was designed to support in the members an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people. Before the sentiments impressed on their minds by the mode of their elevation can be effaced by the exercise of power, they will be compelled to anticipate the moment when their power is to cease, when their exercise of it is to be reviewed, and when they must descend to the level from which they were raised; there forever to remain unless a faithful discharge of their trust shall have established their title to a renewal of it. In other words, Members of Congress – even the most powerful members – are subject to election every two years and can be thrown from their high office back to obscurity.
Now of course the Federal Government, and Congress itself has done a lot of damage to the republican system of government envisioned by the Founders, but one thing remains true, Members of Congress need to represent the people that brung them to the dance. Party obligations can be easily overridden by political concerns. This is particularly true in the GOP, which unlike the Democratic Party does not operate like a political machine. The Republican Party is by its very nature fractious, and the desire for Speaker Boehner to ensure that he had enough Republican votes to pass legislation before bringing it to the floor led to heated intra-party infighting. This made the Republican House much less effective than it might have been over the past few years, and has frustrated voters so much that they are turning away from established politicians and toward reality stars and self-styled mavericks in the Presidential primaries.
Of course, the Democratic Party is just as fractious, but rather than work individually to represent their constituents, the Democrats in Congress have punted their authority to the President and simply blindly support anything and everything that comes out of the White House. This way, they don’t have to take responsibility for problems and can take credit for the few things that the President is actually able to accomplish.
The fact of the matter is that just as it was in 1788, when Madison wrote Federalist 57, the country is a fractious nation. It is the magic built into a system of divided and tumultuous government institutions that has for the most part allowed people with extremely divergent belief systems to live together as a nation. At least that was just a dream… that was just a dream of the Founding Fathers.